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Data Centers: Applications, Networks and Chicken-Salad Sandwiches

You’ve seen the data points: 30 million new devices connected to the Internet each week. A whopping 50 billion connected by 2020. This surge of connectivity – driven largely by the Internet of Everything – is creating vast new opportunities for digitization as industries transform.

This tidal wave of connected devices is also reshaping the data center. Why? Because every single thing connected to the Internet has a MAC and IP address, and this enormous growth will unleash more addresses than anyone can imagine. These addresses need, feed, and breed applications, whether by running an app or providing it data. And as this happens at an exponential scale, the data center becomes the key to making it all work.

We know that the applications will be everywhere, and that’s a good thing. Apps will continue to be in the enterprise data center – the private cloud—where they’ve been running for a long time. And they’ll run in cloud-based data centers. They’ll also run at the edge – whether the edge is a branch office, your home, or even a part of your body.

For applications to perform optimally no matter where they are, the infrastructure has to understand the language of applications. We have to teach it. And this is where policy comes in. For us, policy is teaching the infrastructure the language of the application so that the application can tell the infrastructure, “Here is what I need to run at my best.”

This is an area where Cisco has a lot of skin in the game. After all, no one knows Data Center infrastructure better than we do.

Our Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) is an example of policy. It’s our flagship offering, our strategic direction. And it’s vertically integrated – spanning hardware and software. It’s also really popular. Just last week, we reached our 1000th customerDanske Bank, the largest financial institution in Denmark.

Why is the network the best place to put policy?

First, the network touches everything – from the data center to the cloud to every device. Just as the applications are everywhere, so is the network as the foundation. And when you’re trying to set policy, you’ve got to get it out and make it available to everything on the network.

Another reason: the network is the single source of truth within the infrastructure. It knows every conversation that’s happening between every device. It knows who’s communicating a lot and who isn’t, or who’s communicating a little bit of the time but in big chunks. The network never lies.

Why Cisco

Moving addresses, frames and packets is our core competency. Believe me when I tell you — if our development team could stick a chicken-salad sandwich inside an Ethernet frame, they would do it. It’s what we have done a lot of here at Cisco – get things on the network.

Where are we going from here? With the vast scale we’re looking at – once 50 billion or more devices are connected – it won’t be possible for any single human, or any one programming tool, or any one piece of software to manage or optimize this network.

The infrastructure itself is going to have to learn and be self-aware to scale. This explains why we’ve begun exploring how to get all this needed policy and expertise into the silicon and into the infrastructure.

When I envision the data center of the future, I see a data center that has unprecedented scale and always-on network analytics, one that creates a dynamic and agile infrastructure, that is self-learning, self-healing and self-executing, and that drives business outcomes faster than any human ever could. This is where we’re going, and why I’m so damned excited about it.

Stay tuned. There’s a lot more to come.



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Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

As I’ve mentioned in more than one post, I enjoy touring Data Centers.  One detail I pay attention to during these visits is signage.

Are patch panels and structured cabling labeled, so it’s easy to trace connections between devices? Is electrical circuit information provided at each cabinet location, so power feeds can be quickly identified? Do alarms (fire and otherwise) have instructions nearby, telling visitors what their various audio tones and light patterns mean? 

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What Du Can Do With ACI

It seems people sometimes have this view of SDN as addressing rather esoteric use cases and situations. However, the reality is that while there are instances of ‘out there stuff’ happening, there are many situations where we see customers leverage the technology to address pretty straightforward issues. And these issues are often similar across different business/vertical/customer types.

Aftab Rasool is Senior Manager, Data Center Infrastructure and Service Design Operations for Du.   I recently had the chance to talk with him about Cisco’s flagship SDN solution – Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) – and Du’s experience with it. I found there were many instances of Du using ACI to simply make traditional challenges easier to deal with.

Du is an Information & Communications Technology (ICT) company based in Dubai. They offer a broad range of services to both consumer and business markets, including triple play to the home, mobile voice/data, and hosting. The nature of their business means the data center, and thus the data center network, is critical to their success. They need a solution to effectively handle challenges of both deployment, as well as operations…and that’s where ACI comes in.

I’ll quickly use the metaphor of driving to summarize the challenges Aftab covers in the video. He addresses issues that are both ‘in the rear view mirror’ as well as ‘in the windshield’ – with both being generalizable to lots of other customers. What I mean is that there are issues from the past that, though they are largely behind the car and visible in the mirror, still impact the driving experience. There are also issues on the horizon that are visible through the windshield, but are just now starting to come into focus and have effect.

Rear view mirror issues – These are concepts as basic as scalability associated with spanning tree issues, or sub optimal use of bandwidth, also due to spanning tree limitations. These issues are addressed with ACI, as there is no spanning tree in the fabric, and the use of Equal Cost Multi Pathing (ECMP) allows use of all links. Additionally, use of BiDi allows use of existing 10G fiber plant for 40G upgrades, thus obviating the expense and hassle of fiber upgrades. As a result, the ACI fabric, based on Nexus 9000’s, provides all the performance and capacity Du needs.

Windshield issues – These are represented by a range of things that result from business’s need for speed, yet are diametrically opposed by the complexity of most data centers. The need for speed through automation is becoming more and more critical, as is simplifying the operating environment, particularly as the business must scale. Within this context, Aftab mentioned both provisioning and troubleshooting.

Provisioning: Without ACI, provisioning involved getting into each individual switch, making requisite changes – configuring VLANs, L3, etc. It also required going into L4-7 services devices to assure they were configured properly and worked in concert with the L2 and L3 configurations. This device by device configuration not only was time consuming, but created the potential for human error. With ACI, these and other types of activities are automated and happen with a couple of clicks.

Troubleshooting: Before ACI, troubleshooting was complicated and time consuming, in part because they had to troll through each switch, look at various link by link characteristics to check for errors, etc. With ACI, healthscores make it easy and fast to pinpoint where the challenge is.

Please take a few minutes to check out what Aftab has to say about these, and other aspects of his experience with ACI at Du.


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Thinking Bigger! Cisco + IBM – Collaboration of giants brings industry-leading solution for big data analytics

In December 2014, we announced VersaStack, an integrated infrastructure reference solution for enterprise applications that combines technologies from Cisco and IBM. Further extending this partnership, today we are announcing support for IBM BigInsights for Apache Hadoop on our Cisco UCS Integrated infrastructure for Big Data – an industry-leading platform widely adapted for enterprise big data application deployments. The joint solution encompasses disruptive innovations in Cisco UCS and the robust and industry-compatible Apache Hadoop distribution from IBM. This solution can be installed as a standalone Hadoop cluster with powerful analytical tools or can be integrated into existing VersaStack deployments that will benefit from a common fabric and unified management capabilities to deliver the deepest possible insight into your data to help you gain a sustainable competitive advantage.

We are also announcing the availability of Cisco Validated Design (CVD) that provides step by step design guidelines comprehensively tested and documented to help ensure faster, more reliable and predictable deployments at lower total cost of ownership.


  • Combines innovations from Cisco UCS such as programable infrastructure with best of open source software with enterprise-grade capabilities in IBM BigInsights for Apache Hadoop
  • Designed and optimized for common use cases, pre-tested, pre-validated and fully documented by Cisco and IBM engineers to ensure dependable deployments that can scale from small to very large as workload demands
  • Provides enterprises with extensive platform management and data visualization capabilities and integration of  big data with other information solutions to help enhance data manipulation and management tasks
  • Brings the power of SQL to Hadoop at the performance and scale ever than before accelerating data science and analytics leveraging SQL – arguably the most beautiful programming language – and integration with business applications to access data stored in HDFS and HBase with JDBC and ODBC
  • Deep technical expertise, global resources, and world-class support and services from Cisco, IBM and partners

This solution is built on Cisco UCS infrastructure using Cisco UCS 6200 Series Fabric Interconnects and Cisco UCS C-Series Rack Servers optimized for IBM BigInsights for Apache Hadoop with scalability to thousands of nodes with Cisco Nexus 9000 Series Switches:

IBM BigInsightsonUCS

For more information, please visit:


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Danske Bank: Our 1000th Cisco ACI Customer!

A little over a year ago, we began shipping Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI).

Yesterday, Chuck Robbins tweeted that we hit our 1000th customer – Danske Bank, the largest financial institution in Denmark.

Our fast momentum and success with the Nexus 9000 (N9K) and ACI is largely due to our continued focus on customer needs – both now and well into the future. And our broad ecosystem of industry leaders has been and is committed to deliver integrated solutions for our mutual customers.

Just a little over three years ago, the team behind the N9K and ACI – Insieme Networks – began by listening to a variety of customers on what their business requirements were at the time and into the foreseeable future. What we learned is that modern enterprises were looking for an application-centric approach using open standards to deliver today’s business services.

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