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Rebuttal to VMware Comments on ACI and SDN Architectures

January 21, 2014 at 11:27 am PST

In a January 13, 2014 NetworkWorld article, VMware executive, Steve Mullaney, compared VMware NSX to Cisco ACI and other SDN architectures. Cisco’s Frank D’Agostino replied to those assertions in the comments section of the article. Frank’s points are abbreviated and summarized here:

1. VMware pricing model is fundamentally flawed, which is raising OpEx costs, and affecting network design decisions and scale.

VMware is charging customers per-port, per-VM, and increases the cost of networking by 2x or more, while providing lower functionality, increasing operations expense, and forcing you to adopt a different network architecture. ACI delivers more functionality with zero VM tax.

For VMware, our customers consistently report pricing starting at $50 or more per VM per month. In competitive engagements, pricing rapidly declines to $15 per VM per month, then lower depending on the negotiation. Customers do not like the per port pricing, the same as they do not like per VM pricing. All of those models get expensive and alter your designs and scale considerations.

2. Claims that ACI is a proprietary platform or policy model belies the fact that many aspects of VMware’s architecture require vendor lock-in, on top of the premium pricing model.

VMware claims that ACI is proprietary. Yet customers have to get their OVS from VMware not the open switch download, under open source license. Currently, VMware is the only hypervisor platform that locks customers into a proprietary controller -- RedHat, KVM, and Hyper-V all provide open access. ACI contributions are showing up in OpenStack, IETF drafts, and through VXLAN extensions, and is providing the most open implementation in the industry -- API’s, data model, and integration with 3rd party controllers. Federating NSX with 3rd party controllers, such as HP, is different that providing open, bi-directional programmability.

3. Openness is really measured by the breadth of infrastructures, OS platforms, orchestration models, etc., that are supported by the policy model, and ACI is rapidly outdistancing NSX in this area.

ACI supports any hypervisor, any encapsulation (VXLAN, NVGRE, VLAN, and even STT), any physical platform, storage, physical compute, layer 4 through 7, WAN, with full flexibility of any workload anywhere, with full policy, performance, and visibility in hardware. ACI supports Open vSwitch and allows a 3rd party controller to program ACI hardware components.  Investment protection is built in supporting existing platforms, and within the Nexus 9000 products enabling you to run enhanced NXOS and ACI mode with a software upgrade.

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Limitations of a Software-Only Approach to Data Center Networking

To learn more about Application Centric Infrastructure,
join us for a special webcast with John Chambers and Soni Jiandani
on November 6th at 10:30 am EST/7:30 pm PST/15:30 GMT.
Register here

I want to address some questions about VMware’s NSX virtual networking announcement that have been asked of us by the media and social Web commentators in the past few days. Specifically, they have asked  why Cisco did not announce support for NSX and whether the announcement changes the long-standing strategic relationship between our two companies.

First, let me be clear: VMware is an important partner to Cisco, and we expect to continue our close collaboration around private cloud and desktop virtualization.  As we outlined yesterday in a joint news release about Cisco and VMware’s mutual customers, thousands of organizations rely on our combined innovation in their businesses each and every day and I look forward to continued success in this area.

While we share a common vision for private cloud and desktop virtualization, there are significant differences in our visions over the future of networking.

Network virtualization is important. We both agree on that. In fact, over the past several years, we have delivered game-changing innovations in this area particularly with the Nexus 1000v and more recently with NFV solutions, both of which are key elements of the Cisco ONE portfolio. Today, more than 6,000 Nexus 1000v customers benefit from the flexibility delivered by our virtual networking technology.

However, a software-only approach to network virtualization places significant constraints on customers.  It doesn’t scale, and it fails to provide full real-time visibility of both physical and virtual infrastructure.  In addition this approach does not provide key capabilities such as multi-hypervisor support, integrated security, systems point-of-view or end-to-end telemetry for application placement and troubleshooting.  This loosely-coupled approach forces the user to tie multiple 3rd party components together adding cost and complexity in day-to-day operations as well as throughout the network lifecycle.  Users are forced to address multiple management points and maintain version control for each of the independent components.  Software network virtualization treats physical and virtual infrastructure as separate entities, and denies customers a common policy framework and common operational model for management, orchestration and monitoring.

Cisco has a different strategy and that is embodied in the Application Centric Infrastructure.  Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) is an innovative secure architecture that delivers centralized application-driven policy automation, management and visibility of physical and virtual networks.  It’s built upon a fabric foundation that delivers best-in-class infrastructure by combining hardware, software and ASIC innovations into an integrated system.

The architecture provides a common management framework for network, application, security and virtualization teams — making IT more agile while reducing application deployment time.  It’s built for multi-tenancy ensuring proper isolation and detailed telemetry of SLAs across different consumers of the infrastructure while also providing a consistent security policy across both physical and virtual applications.  ACI allows IT teams to offer a public cloud experience and economics to their customers while maintaining the associated SLAs and performance requirements for the most demanding business applications.  It’s an open programmable architecture with a comprehensive set of APIs that enables the broadest ecosystem of datacenter management and L4-7 services.  Finally, ACI enables comprehensive investment protection by leveraging existing IT teams’ skillset and infrastructure to lower overall TCO.

I recently wrote a blog post about how Network Virtualization is a Different to Server Virtualization as we think about the next chapter of networking.  It’s key to remember that underutilized compute resources created the opportunity for server virtualization. Underutilization is not a problem in the network. In fact, server virtualization is pushing the limits of today’s network utilization and driving demand for higher port counts, application and policy-driven automation, and unified management of physical, virtual and cloud infrastructures in a single system.  Businesses today are looking for more from their investments as they turn on new services and applications more quickly, in a way that is easier to manage and that can scale with applications needs.

We believe that delivering those benefits requires the flexibility of software coupled tightly with the performance and scalability of hardware and ASICs. That’s what we’re delivering with our Application-Centric Infrastructure vision and throughout the entire Unified Data Center portfolio.

Stay tuned for some exciting news from us in this area in the next few months.

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

To know more about Application Centric Infrastructure join us for a special webcast
with John Chambers and Soni Jiandani
on November 6th at 10:30 am EST/7:30 pm PST/15:30 GMT
Register Here 

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.

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