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The Next Paradigm Shift: Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI) gets ready to rumble

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True Innovators are not easy to find. In fact, people who build next-generation innovations and succeed are certifiably rare. Repeat successes with these innovations are rarer still. Hatricks are legendary. Anything beyond is best relegated to a rarefied stratospheric atmosphere and dismissed as fiction.

Fortunately for us at Cisco, one need not look too far for such innovators. The team of Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain, Luca Cafiero and Soni Jiandani (affectionately called by some in the industry as the MPLS team) has both the reputation as well as the track-record of not just building world-class innovations, but for successfully converting them into multi-billion dollar global businesses within the Cisco fold.   So, when they talk about networking, a subject which they know a thing or two about, most people find it worth their while to listen up.

For those who’ve followed Cisco and particularly the switching and data center business, their handiwork is visible across Cisco’s switching  (Catalyst, Nexus, MDS switching) as well as compute solutions (UCS).  However, entrepreneurs cannot just rest on their laurels. They thrive on the next big challenge. So, when Cisco’s investment in Insieme network s was announced with this leadership team, there was considerable interest and excitement all around.

Needless to say there has been significant media, customer and analyst interest over the past 18+ months. So back in June, we took the opportunity to share the vision of Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) when we had the largest gathering of Cisco customers, industry analysts and the media under one roof at Cisco Live!, Orlando.  During that time,  I also got to sit down for a “Fireside chat with Soni Jiandani, that you can watch here, where she talks about the vision for this new architectural approach, the design philosophy, limitations of current approaches with traditional networking and 1st generation SDN solutions, and  benefits customers can expect from infrastructure that is application-centric.

Fast forward now, this week at VMworld has proved to be quite interesting. Cisco is 2013 global diamond sponsor for VMworld and we’re collaborating on several areas together.  But with some of the networking related announcements from VMware, naturally, we’ve had all sorts of questions thrown at us. Some were from sections of the media community looking for headline material. Others were more genuine coming in from informed journalists, bloggers, investors, analysts and of course customers.  Many focused on our relationship with VMware.

Suffice to say, we have a great relationship with VWware.  We partner tightly around private cloud and desktop virtualization. When it comes to server virtualization there is clearly a natural synergy and our collaboration is mutually beneficial for both companies.  Customers like it as evidenced in the press release here. Likewise, the VCE partnership has been consistently delivering compelling customer value. That leaves just the networking piece. It is no secret that we share differing viewpoints on the best approach to deliver network solutions, particularly in the area of network virtualization in the data center. So, in that domain, we would compete.

Ironically, VMworld also created renewed interest in Cisco’s vision of Application Centric Infrastructure, and there were genuine asks t to learn more about this topic:

-          New application demands and how do they impact Infrastructure?

-          Vision of Application Centric Infrastructure? What customer pain points does it solve?

-          How does ACI compare with NSX and SDDC vision from VMware?

-          Will Cisco focus on software as well? Is this SDN or something different?

-          Role of OpenStack and ACI fit? What use-cases do they address?

-          Why is integration required between physical and virtual? Would a pure overlay solve the problem?

Some of these questions (paraphrased), were posed to Soni, as she sat down with the Wikibon and Silicon Angle team at VMworld this week. The candid conversation included insights into the approach that Cisco and Insieme team have been pursuing, as well as insights into broader landscape and competitive dynamics. The video is about 20 minutes long, but it captures the problem statement and Soni contrasts different industry approaches quite well.

I can only see this conversation becoming more exciting, as the vision of Application Centric Infrastructure gradually becomes a reality. There are not many in the industry that can make a transformative vision like this come to life. It requires a lot of the right building blocks. Fortunately, Cisco has a considerable footprint in, as well as knowledge of both physical and virtual networking. It has a strong foundation in network services and in Security. Its growth in servers has been nothing short of jaw-dropping. We also hit #1 market share in cloud infrastructure this year. A number of standards-initiatives are being led. New fabric innovations like Dynamic Fabric Automation have been announced with the current portfolio. There is a rich ecosystem of strategic partners that continues to grow. A company-wide initiative with the Cisco Open Network Environment (Cisco ONE) has grown roots. And most important, Cisco has a customer base that cuts across different segments and provides valuable insights.

So, wouldn’t it be great if we could leverage all these assets and accomplishments and take it to the next level -- to lay the foundation for the next-phase of data center transformation? And while doing that, wouldn’t it be great, if this approach only delivered on all the promises being made by a pure software-defined data center, but went beyond? Like, way beyond?

No doubt, the application-centric infrastructure initiative is an ambitious one. But it is also where opportunities lie ahead for us as an industry and it is where customers want us to go. The journey has already begun.

We had indicated availability of solutions starting 2H 2013.  Fall starts in a few weeks time..

Fasten your seat belts! It’s beginning to rumble…

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5 Comments.


  1. I like the conversation this has sparked between the two different approaches. An argument can be made that Cisco’s approach keeps it’s users with static proprietary solutions while software allows for flexibility. I’m just starting to dive deep into the pros/cons of each approach. I’m enjoying the competitive push from each company.

       1 like

    • Keith,
      Cisco’s position is not discounting value of software. Rather the debate if about a software-only approach. Likewise, I would not assume that Cisco’s approach is proprietary, or just because it is software, that it is all open.

      Agree – debates are healthy.

         1 like

  2. Unfortunately, Soni’s spin did not shed any light on the
    real soln.

       1 like

  3. I assume this is the prelude to the much anticipated announcement of an Insieme product?

       1 like

  4. So is this another Cisco’s attempt at AON (Application Oreinted Networking) and SONA (Service Ofiented Network Architecture)? Those two failed miserably 5 years or so ago. Because customers hated closely coupling application level switching into Networking stack, and forever locking themselves into Cisco’s proprietary solutions.

    It sounds like Cisco just keep trying the same tired approach, as the temptation to lock in their customers under the pretense of “application aware network” is just too great. Eventually, Cisco will learn its lessons, as Microsoft, Nokia and Blackberry are now learning theirs.

       1 like