7 Tough Questions For Cisco, Insieme Execs After ACI Launch

Cisco's SDN Stand

Cisco Wednesday made its formal entry into the software-defined networking (SDN) space, with its planned acquisition of its SDN-focused spin-in Insieme Networks and the unveiling of its new application-centric infrastructure (ACI).

At an ACI launch event in New York, Cisco and Insieme executives sat down with reporters to field a number of tough questions, ranging from the role Cisco partners will play in the ACI rollout to how Cisco's SDN strategy stacks up against VMware's.

Here's what Cisco and Insieme had to say.

When Will Cisco Start To See Revenue From ACI?

"The Nexus 9000 starts shipping this quarter. We are in the second quarter as of today and the Nexus 9000 starts to ship in Q2. Two models of the 9000 ship in Q2 and two subsequent models will ship in Q3. That's the best way to look at it," said Rob Lloyd (pictured), president of development and sales at Cisco. "The actual revenue implications to Cisco and its partners will evolve over the second half of calendar 2014. But we will begin to actually ship the fabric controller, the APIC… in our fourth quarter of this year."

Lloyd added: "So the revenue implications are now."

Do Partners Need To Be Application Experts To Sell ACI?

"Our partners will need to think a lot more about how applications and the ecosystem evolves," Lloyd said. "We don't want our partners to become SAP experts. We want our partners to understand how those profiles will run in an SAP environment in a three- or four-tier application world. We are going to need to evolve our partners' awareness of applications and help them with services that we actually have not had a broad conversation around today."

"But our services team -- the advanced services team -- is building a portfolio of services and offers, just like we did when we introduced UCS," Lloyd continued. "We built a portfolio of offers... and then scaled those through our partners. So partners will need to evolve their data center practices."

What Else Should Partners Know About Selling ACI?

"All of us -- and this is not a small task -- will need to broaden the conversations we have across the enterprise to be able to have a conversation more broadly than just network and compute. And that's a big thing -- it's not a small thing," Lloyd said. "That’s a big thing in the go-to-market [strategy]. We will have to be comfortable in building conversations more broadly with different decision-makers in the data center and at the application layer."

How Will Insieme Change With Cisco's Acquisition?

"We will be integrated as being part of Cisco's employees, and we will have the opportunity, basically, to keep doing what we were doing in the context of the same systems and processes we were leveraging," said Soni Jiandani (pictured), senior vice president of Insieme Networks. "We are still leveraging Cisco's supply chain. We are still leveraging the fact that we had Cisco IT personnel sitting alongside with us defining what this new model and transformation would look like for [customers] and how they would embrace Nexus 9000 into existing environments and existing data centers."

Jiandani added: "[The acquisition] is a formality of going from being an external entity to being a 100 percent-owned entity for the team and the engineers."

Will ACI Lock Customers Into A Cisco-Only Architecture?

"It's an extremely open architecture. You saw that, from an open ecosystem standpoint, we will work with a wide variety of systems, hypervisors, orchestration management, as well as layer-4 to -7 services," said Ishmael Limkakeng, vice president of marketing at Insieme. "We will publish the APIs in the data model to be able to work with open controllers. So there is a very open environment, where our customers are not locked in."

How Does ACI Differ From VMware's NSX platform?

"[One difference] is that we are hypervisor-independent. We are seeing customers now increasingly running multiple hypervisors, and that's a trend we expect to see continue. We have been extremely successful selling UCS and selling [it] together with VMware into vSphere environments," said Cisco's Lloyd. "We are seeing Hyper-V and we are seeing KVM deployments across our customers, within both service provider and the enterprise. So multiple hypervisors or being hypervisor-agnostic to deploy these benefits is another difference that we see."

Insieme's Limkakeng added: "Then there is unification of virtual and physical. When you look at customers' environments, they are not just virtual, and they are not just physical. They have applications that reside in both. If you want a common view and a common policy and you want to solve the problems of application agility, you have to address both. This addresses both. [VMware] is primarily in the virtual space."

Is VMware Part Of The ACI Partner Ecosystem?

"Yes," said Insieme's Limkakeng. "We work with them from a hypervisor standpoint and from an orchestration standpoint."