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ACI Design Principles: The role of SDN Overlays in Application Centric Deployments – Part 1

Tom Edsall, ACIThis is a two-part blog series developed in association with Tom Edsall, a Cisco Fellow and CTO of Insieme Networks, recently acquired by Cisco Systems. The intent is to elaborate on foundational design principles of Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), a transformational approach for next-generation and cloud deployments. While the vision of ACI is an expansive one, this blog series focuses on the role of SDN overlays, their deployment considerations, as well as benefits that customers could derive from the unique implementation of overlays in an ACI solution.

The philosophy of Application Centric Infrastructure

Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure approach focuses on the most important thing in the data-center: applications.  Without applications, we would not even need a data center at all!  Everything we do in the data center ultimately is used to support those applications and the data that they work on because that is what ultimately drives business value.

The modern data center must be able to deploy applications rapidly, using any and all resources (compute, storage, network) available in the data center at any time.  It must also be possible to grow, shrink, and move applications as needed.  This will drive business agility and efficient use of resources.

The problem is that classical networking systems were developed in a world where there was less focus on any application anywhere, any time. Instead the focus was on on building large, static, IP networks.

Our solution was to create an application centric infrastructure where the emphasis is on the application rather than on the network.  In order to do this we had to change the abstraction of the network from one that is, well, network centric to one that is application centric.  In addition, we had to employ some SDN techniques to change the network from a traditional static infrastructure to a more dynamic, agile, flexible infrastructure. Let’s look into some of these techniques in detail.

Integrating SDN concepts

We employ two important concepts used in typical SDN solutions: overlays and a centralized controller.  Overlays give us network flexibility that was never possible before by separating the location of a device from its identity. The centralized controller gives us consistent network behavior wherever an application is deployed, the application centric abstraction of the network, and a single point of control.  While these benefits are important, even fundamental, to building a data center capable of supporting the business requirements of application agility, they also introduce their own set of problems in traditional SDN deployments that must be addressed. We will discuss these issues and their solutions shortly.

The SDN overlay and application abstraction is built on top of networking hardware that must move data across the data center quickly and efficiently without requiring changes to the applications, servers or storage elements attached to it.  The hardware must do this in an efficient, reliable manner and provide as much assistance as possible to the network operator when troubleshooting and monitoring those applications as they use the network.  Lastly, this hardware must be cost effective, power efficient, and space efficient.

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#CiscoChampion Radio S1|Ep2: Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI)

February 25, 2014 at 9:00 am PST

Welcome to Episode 2 of #CiscoChampion Radio, a podcast series by and for Cisco Champions as technologists, hosted by Cisco’s Amy Lewis (@CommsNinja). This week we’re talking about Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI).

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Listen to the Podcast

Featured Guests:
Cisco Champion: Colin Lynch (@UCSguru)
Cisco Subject Matter Expert: Joe Onisick (@jonisick)

Highlights:
How ACI lets you manage a network cohesively instead of box-by-box
What a network looks like in ACI mode vs. stand-alone mode
How ACI works with network protocols like spanning-tree and TRILL
Upgrading the Nexus 9000 Series to ACI
When ACI makes sense for your business

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VXLAN Taking a More Strategic Role in Cloud Networks with Support across Cisco Fabrics and Switching Platforms

February 4, 2014 at 3:00 pm PST

There’s been a lot of news and momentum surrounding VXLAN technology in the last several months, and there is no doubt that VXLAN is becoming a more strategic and pervasive technology across cloud networks as a result. When we rolled out VXLAN about two years ago with the first commercial implementation as part of our Nexus 1000V virtual switch, VXLAN was solely a virtual networking construct and had real constraints in how it could be extended to physical networks and devices. It was also restricted to overlay networks using our Nexus 1000V switch (or other virtual switches supporting the VXLAN overlay protocol).

Now, however, VXLAN is being supported broadly across Cisco networking platforms and devices, across multiple Cisco fabric architectures, and we are even seeing broader support from other vendor ecosystems and non-Cisco switching platforms. Cisco is continuing to expand its support for VXLAN onto the new Nexus 5600 Series switches, as well as Nexus 7700 Series using the F3 line card.

For those of you not fully up to speed on VXLAN, VXLAN stands for Virtual eXtensible Local Area Network, and started out as vastly more scalable Layer 2 LAN and tenant isolation construct for data center and cloud networks. Where cloud networks were running out of only 4000+ VLAN IDs to segment application networks, VXLAN gave them over 16 Million logical network segments.

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Cisco ACI adds New Security and Application Delivery Vendors to Ecosystem: A10 Networks and Catbird

February 3, 2014 at 4:00 am PST

Cisco announced last week that its rapidly expanding ACI ecosystem now includes the A10 Networks aCloud Services Architecture based on the Thunder ADC Application Delivery Controllers, as well as the Catbird IDS/IPS virtual security solutions. These new ACI ecosystem vendors are announcing support for the ACI policy model and integration with the Application Infrastructure Policy Controller (APIC) which will accelerate and automate deployment and provisioning of these services into application networks. This should also resolve any speculation that the ACI ecosystem would not be including technology vendors that compete with Cisco’s other lines of business, as Cisco expands the solution alternatives for customers.

Each of the solutions will rely on two primary capabilities of the APIC and ACI to provide a policy-based automation framework and policy-based service insertion technology. A policy-based automation framework enables resources to be dynamically provisioned and configured according to application requirements. As a result, core services such as firewalls, application delivery controllers (ADC) and Layer 4 through 7 switches can be consumed by applications and made ready to use in a single automated step.

A policy-based service insertion solution automates the step of routing network traffic to the correct services based on application policies. The automated addition, removal, and reordering of services allows applications to quickly change the resources that they require without the need to rewire and reconfigure the network or relocate the services. For example, if the business decision is made to use a web application firewall found in a modern ADC as a cost-effective way of achieving PCI compliance, administrators would simply need to redefine the policy for the services that should be used for the related applications. The Cisco APIC can dynamically distribute new policies to the infrastructure and service nodes in minutes, without requiring the network be manually changed.

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IT’s New Role in Strategic Cloud Services

As cloud-enabled services transform IT departments everywhere, your path to success as an IT professional was made easier today with Cisco’s announcement to expand its cloud portfolio. With Cisco’s comprehensive cloud portfolio offerings, you can easily and securely combine workloads to manage cloud services across different clouds. By increasing your flexibility for strategic sourcing of cloud-enabled IT services, you can increase your influence as a trusted business partner to your stakeholders. And, as you take on these new strategic roles, Cisco and our channel partners can help you and your organization gain control of cloud services.

While defining and deploying a comprehensive cloud architecture presents tremendous opportunity for IT chiefs, this task is not without its challenges. Successful cloud implementation requires a cloud governance model fueled by strategic vision and a holistic approach that addresses all aspects of your data center and IT operations in the new application economy fueled by cloud.

ScottClark

Cisco: Cloud, ACI and the Application Economy

Following on the heels of our launch last fall of Application Centric Infrastructure, our enhanced Cisco Services for cloud portfolio provides strategic assistance to transition to a cloud governance model within your organization based on business outcomes. With our solutions spanning the plan, build, manage, and go-to-market phases of the cloud project lifecycle, Cisco Services has been recognized as an industry leader in cloud services by both IDC and Forrester.

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