Cisco IT is early in the journey to deploying an application centric infrastructure (ACI). This journey requires us to look at the IT organization differently. When we started evaluating what it would take to align applications to the network, we quickly realized that our organizational structure wasn’t favorable to extracting the most value from ACI. We needed an architecture team that represents all seven layers of the OSI stack, and works in sync to create tenets and policies and classify applications that conform with how we ultimately want to build out the fabric. ACI requires a completely different view of the relationship (along with a common syntax and language) between IT infrastructure and applications.
Cisco IT’s Road to Application Centric Infrastructure: Organizational Readiness and the Program Team
Acxiom is a well-known Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company providing data analytics and data processing solutions to Fortune 100 companies for running and analyzing their marketing campaigns. Recently Cisco spoke to Acxiom’s senior managers Kamal Kharrat, and Chuck Crane, about Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) strategy and how it helps them address their Data Center challenges. In this blog, I will present a brief summary of our discussions. Acxiom is experiencing exponential growth in its customer base, running millions of transactions every week in their hybrid-cloud based data centers. But this growth has brought in its wake several challenges. Acxiom stores confidential, compliance driven data in their private data center infrastructure, and is currently facing elastic scalability problems. Second, they want to transition from a high CAPEX, fixed infrastructure utilization model towards a dynamic model, in which workloads can be seamlessly moved across the private and public infrastructures. Besides, Axciom has a heteregenous mix of L4-L7 vendor devices, multi-hypervisor and security systems and has a pressing need for an open, policy based extensible foundation for their AOS SAAS to bring these services together.
Acxiom is excited to consider Cisco ACI as the best solution to address these problems and are looking to automate their compute, storage and security infrastructure provisioning and achieve the elasticity requirements in their private cloud similar to what they are achieving in the public cloud. Also, Acxiom plans to move the workloads in and out of compute and storage platforms while changing the security zones on-demand increasing the resource utilization to upwards of 80%. Mr. Chuck Crane is quick to point out that Acxiom makes more than 20,000 network and security configuration changes every year and feels the only way to keep up with the growing customer base is to eliminate the labor intensive man-hours and costs that go with them, and hopes to achieve significant reduction in these inefficient processes via automation. He says ACI is the key to arm the network operations to automate the operations and ultimately attain the competitive advantage of agile IT resulting in faster time to market and capitalizing new revenue opportunities.
Today, depending on the solution, it takes about 7 days to 3 weeks for a full provisioning of the resources and the goal is to bring the provisioning time down to hours. With ACI, they say, Acxiom aims to achieve 24-hour turnaround in end-end infrastructure provisioning for application deployments Acxiom will realize a significant reduction in OPEX with this automation.
Last, let us look at how ACI’s Openness helps Acxiom’s data center operations. When looking at repatriating an application (Figure 2) into a private data center, one of the critical challenges is the ability to port the same tools and automation from the public to the private cloud and the network infrastructure is a critical layer in realizing this goal. The open standards based ACI helps Acxiom to use their existing tools and expertise in working across public and private clouds in building infrastructure quickly and achieving the business goals of faster time to market resulting in increased revenue potential.
In conclusion, the Acxiom executives assert that ACI allows their private datacenters to integrate best of breed technologies with their existing infrastructure and achieve full automation seamlessly using service stitching from compute through load balancing through the security platforms -- all from a single point of control. This helps Acxiom to optimize costs, reduce turnaround times and at the same time work seamlessly across private and public clouds.
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Private Clouds are fundamentally challenging how modern data centers are acquiring and consuming IT. Nearly half of large enterprises polled have deployed a private cloud, its reasonable to say organizations are tackling head-on the key concerns of designing, building and deploying a private cloud today. The top challenges are security of data, control and efficient delivery of applications as cloud services; need to be compliant, need for in-house expertise and added upfront costs. Added to the challenges is the network that is becoming the remaining bottleneck to business agility after everything else gets virtualized and automated. SDN is the key component of any cloud computing strategy in making IT more agile and, therefore, more responsive to the needs of the business.
At our April 2 webcast, New Applications Are Knocking: Is your Data Center OPEN for Business?, we explored insights from ACI ecosystem vendors and customers that are addressing these challenges using the Nexus 9000, cloud orchestration, and the open capabilities of ACI.
At that event, Chuck Crane, Lead Networking and Security Architect at Acxiom, shared the accelerating pace that his team is expected to deploy infrastructure in – from weeks down to hours with an astounding 20,000 network and security changes in their cloud infrastructure per year.
His DevOps teams are accelerating their deployment cycles from six months down to two week sprints so the IT organization must deliver new infrastructure services almost instantly. Chuck and the other customer discussions can be found at the 40 minute mark in this video of the event.
Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) solves not only the technical challenges but also delivers the operational, service-level, and financial business improvements that help organizations become world class service oriented IT organizations. ACI gives IT leaders the ability to manage even the most complex private cloud environments more easily and transparently.
The architecture provides a common programmable automation and management framework for network, application, security, and virtualization teams. This framework makes IT more agile while reducing application deployment time. In short, Cisco ACI enables a world class service oriented IT organization by coordinating application, network and security teams to maximize the benefits of a policy-driven data center that support open, standard controller APIs to maximize flexibility and minimize lock-in. In other words, ACI enables the IT to be more strategic in streamlining the IT resources and to act like an internal service provider, essentially “running IT as a business”.
 Gartner, Private Cloud Matures, Hybrid Cloud Is Next, Analyst: Thomas J. Bittman
 Top 10 Technology Trends, 2013: Cloud Computing and Hybrid IT Drive Future IT Models, 6 February 2013, David W. Cearley, Donna Scott, Joe Skorupa, Thomas J. Bittman
 Is ACI Really SDN? One Point of View to Clarify the Conversation, Cisco Blog, Gary Kinghorn
Change is good. After a successful run of four years in Boston, Red Hat Summit moves to San Francisco this year from April 14-17. Red Hat Summit has become one of the premier open source events for the enterprise IT industry with tracks for both developers and business executives.
Cisco is again a Platinum Sponsor and our presence at the event continues to grow. We have a keynote, six breakout speaking sessions and five demos. We’ll have product and solution experts available to share our latest developments with Cisco UCS, OpenStack, virtual networking, and Big Data. Read More »