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The Top Five Myths about Cisco ACI

October 22, 2014 at 5:30 am PST

It’s been almost a year since Cisco publicly unveiled its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI). As we’ve noted in the past, ACI had to overcome a number of preconceived notions about Software Defined Networking (SDN), and without some detailed explanation, it was hard to get your head around how ACI worked and how it related to SDN. As we continue to clarify the message, there are still a number of ACI myths running around out there that we have to spend a good amount of time dispelling, so I thought I’d summarize them here. (Like Centralized Policy Management, Centralized Myth Handling can lead to greater efficiency and increased compliance. :-)).

1.      MYTH:  Cisco has limited software expertise and can’t deliver a true SDN solution because ACI requires Cisco switches (hardware) as well as the APIC controller (software).
REALITY: Cisco believes data centers require a solution that combines the flexibility of software with the performance and scalability of hardware. ACI is the first data center and cloud solution to offer full visibility and integrated management of both physical and virtual networked IT resources, all built around the policy requirements of the application. ACI delivers SDN, but goes well beyond it to also deliver policy-based automation.

2.      MYTH: ACI requires an expensive “forklift upgrade” Cisco customers must replace their existing Nexus switches with new ACI-capable switches.
REALITY: ACI is actually quite affordable due to the licensing model we use and because customers can extend ACI policy management to their entire data center by implementing a “pod” with a cost-effective ACI starter kit. On July 29, Cisco announced four ACI starter kits which are cost effective bundles that are ideal for proof-of-concept and lab deployments, and to create an ACI central policy “appliance” for existing Cisco Nexus 2000-7000 infrastructure to scale out private clouds using ACI. Customers who compare ACI to SDN software-only solutions discover that operational costs, roughly 75 percent of overall IT costs, are substantially lower with ACI — so the total cost of ownership is compelling. Along with the fact that the existing network infrastructure can still be leveraged.

3.      MYTH:  The ACI solution is not open; Cisco doesn’t do enough with the open community. 
REALITY: Openness is a core tenet in ACI design. We see openness in three dimensions: open source, open standards, and open APIs. This naturally fosters an open ecosystem as well. Several partners like F5 and Citrix already are shipping device packs for joint deployments. Customers experience tremendous benefits when vendors come together to provide tightly integrated solutions engineered to work together out of the box.

ACI is designed to operate in heterogeneous data center environments with multiple vendors and multiple hypervisors. ACI supports an open ecosystem covering a broad range of Layer 4-7 services, orchestration platforms, and automation tools. One of the key drivers behind this ecosystem is OpFlex, an open standards initiative that helps customers achieve an intelligent, multivendor, policy-enabled infrastructure. Additionally, through contributions to OpenStack Neutron with our Group-Based Policy model, we are offering a fully open source policy API available to any OpenStack user. Cisco is also working with open source Linux vendors like Red Hat and Canonical to distribute an ACI Opflex agent for OVS, and contributing the Group-based Policy model to Open Daylight.

4.      MYTH: Customers want SDN solutions for their data center networks, but ACI is not an SDN solution.
REALITY:  We believe that SDN or even software defined data centers are not the sole results customers are looking for – it is the policy-based management and automation provided by ACI that delivers tremendous benefits to application deployment and troubleshooting– and provides a compelling TCO by cutting operational costs.  Channel partners agree with us:  a recent study by Baird Equity Research surveyed 60 channel solution providers and found that they would recommend the Nexus 9000 portfolio and ACI to their customers.

5.      MYTH:  Cisco can’t compete against cheap commodity “white box” switches – they are the future of data center networks.  
REALITY:  The truth is that only a handful of companies can effectively deploy white boxes because they require a great deal of operational management and troubleshooting, which is more expensive than the upfront costs of non-commodity hardware. Deutsche Bank published a report last year titled “Whitebox Switches Are Not Exactly a Bargain” which explains how the total cost equation changes when you take into account operational costs. In addition, white boxes don’t include the rich features and capabilities that most companies want. Channel solution providers know this very well. The same Baird Equity Research study of 60 channel solution providers cited above indicated that only 2% would recommend NSX running on white-box or non-Cisco networking gear.

In the data center, “one size does not fit all”, so Cisco offers a variety of switch configurations to match customer needs. For example, customers can start with merchant silicon-based line cards and migrate to an ACI environment with ACI-capable line cards and APIC, if and when they wish.

BOTTOM LINE:  We believe that Cisco will continue to win with our partners in the data center by delivering innovation through a highly secure and application centric infrastructure.  Through training, support, and new certifications, we are empowering over two million networking engineers and thousands of channel partners worldwide to succeed with ACI in the data center and cloud.

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The Benefits of an Application Policy Language in Cisco ACI: Part 3 – Group Policies

October 17, 2014 at 5:00 am PST

[Note: This is the third a four-part series on the OpFlex protocol in Cisco ACI, how it enables an application-centric policy model, and why other SDN protocols do not. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4]

The Cisco ACI fabric is designed as an application-centric intelligent network. The Cisco APIC policy model is defined from the top down as a policy enforcement engine focused on the application itself and abstracting the networking functions underneath. The policy model unites with the advanced hardware capabilities of the Cisco ACI fabric underlying the business-application-focused control system.

The Cisco APIC policy object-oriented model is built on the distributed policy enforcement concepts for intelligent devices enabled by OpFlex and characterized by modern development and operations (DevOps) applications such as Puppet and Chef.

At the top level, the Cisco APIC policy model is built on a series of one or more tenants, which allows the network infrastructure administration and data flows to be segregated. Tenants can be customers, business units, or groups, depending on organization needs. Below tenants, the model provides a series of objects that define the application itself. These objects are endpoints and endpoint groups (EPGs) and the policies that define their relationships (see figure below). The relationship between two endpoints, which might be two virtual machines connected in a three-tier web application, can be implemented by routing traffic between the endpoints to firewalls and ADCs that enforce the appropriate security and quality of service (QoS) policies for the application and those endpoints.

Endpoint Group Policy

Endpoints and Application Workloads Along with Tenants and Application Network Profiles Are the Foundation of the Cisco ACI Policy ModelEndpoints and Application Workloads Along with Tenants and Application Network Profiles Are the Foundation of the Cisco ACI Policy Model

For a more thorough description of the Cisco ACI application policy model, please refer to this whitepaper, or this one more specifically on Endpoint Groups.

For this discussion, the important feature to notice is the way that Cisco ACI policies are applied to application endpoints (physical and virtual workloads) and to EPGs. Configuration of individual network devices is ancillary to the requirements of the application and workloads. Individual devices do not require programmatic control as in prior SDN models, but are orchestrated according to the centrally defined and managed policies and according to application policies.

This model is catching hold in the industry and in the open source community. The OpenStack organization has begun work on including group-based policies to extend the OpenStack Neutron API for network orchestration with a declarative policy-based model based closely on EPG policies from Cisco ACI. (Note: “Declarative” refers to the orchestration model in which control is distributed to intelligent devices based on centralized policies, in contrast to retaining per-flow management control within the controller itself.)

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Open Source at The Large Hadron Collider and Data Gravity

I am delighted to announce a new Open Source cybergrant awarded to the Caltech team developing the ANSE project at the Large Hadron Collider. The project team lead by Caltech Professor Harvey Newman will be further developing the world’s fastest data forwarding network with Open Daylight. The LHC experiment is a collaboration of world’s top Universities and research institutions, the network is designed and developed by the California Institute of Technology High Energy Physics department in partnership with CERN and the scientists in search of the Higgs boson, adding new dimensions to the meaning of “big data analytics”, the same project team that basically set most if not all world records in data forwarding speeds over the last decade, and quickly approaching the remarkable 1 Tbps milestone.

Unique in its nature and remarkable in its discovery, the LHC experiment and its search for the elusive particle, the very thing that imparts mass to observable matter, is not only stretching the bleeding edge of physics, but makes the observation that data behaves as if it has gravity too. With the exponential rise in data (2 billion billion bytes per day and growing!), services and applications are drawn to “it”. Moving data around is neither cheap nor trivial. Though advances in network bandwidth are in fact observed to be exponential (Nielsen’s Law), advances in compute are even faster (Moore’s Law), and storage even more.  Thus, the impedance mismatch between them, forces us to feel and deal with the rising force of data gravity, a natural consequence of the laws of physics. Since not all data can be moved to the applications nor moved to core nor captured in the cloud, the applications will be drawn to it, a great opportunity for Fog computing, the natural evolution from cloud and into the Internet of Things.

Congratulations to the Caltech physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists working on this exciting project. We look forward to learning from them and their remarkable contribution flowing in Open Source made possible with this cybergrant so that everyone can benefit from it, not just the elusive search for gravity and dark matter. After all, there was a method to the madness of picking such elements for Open Daylight as Hydrogen and Helium. I wander what comes next…

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#EngineersUnplugged S5|Ep7: How Data Becomes Information

April 16, 2014 at 10:31 am PST

In this week’s episode, Nils Swart (@NLNils) and Stace Hipperson (@stacehipperson) discuss how data becomes information via Open Daylight. Have they whiteboarded network engineer nirvana? Watch and see. More data!

This is in fact unicorns in a distance. Foiled again:

Stace Hipperson and Nils Swart own their unicorns.

Stace Hipperson and Nils Swart own their unicorns.

This is Engineers Unplugged, where technologists talk to each other the way they know best, with a whiteboard. The rules are simple:

  1. Episodes will publish weekly (or as close to it as we can manage)
  2. Subscribe to the podcast here: engineersunplugged.com
  3. Follow the #engineersunplugged conversation on Twitter
  4. Submit ideas for episodes or volunteer to appear by Tweeting to @CommsNinja
  5. Practice drawing unicorns

Join the behind the scenes by liking Engineers Unplugged on Facebook.

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Open Source is just the other side, the wild side!

March is a rather event-laden month for Open Source and Open Standards in networking: the 89th IETF, EclipseCon 2014, RSA 2014, the Open Networking Summit, the IEEE International Conference on Cloud (where I’ll be talking about the role of Open Source as we morph the Cloud down to Fog computing) and my favorite, the one and only Open Source Think Tank where this year we dive into the not-so-small world (there is plenty of room at the bottom!) of machine-to-machine (m2m) and Open Source, that some call the Internet of Everything.

There is a lot more to March Madness, of course, in the case of Open Source, a good time to celebrate the 1st anniversary of “Meet Me on the Equinox“, the fleeting moment where daylight conquered the night the day that project Daylight became Open Daylight. As I reflect on how quickly it started and grew from the hearts and minds of folks more interested in writing code than talking about standards, I think about how much the Network, previously dominated, as it should, by Open Standards, is now beginning to run with Open Source, as it should. We captured that dialog with our partners and friends at the Linux Foundation in this webcast I hope you’ll enjoy. I hope you’ll join us in this month in one of these neat places.

As Open Source has become dominant in just about everything, Virtualization, Cloud, Mobility, Security, Social Networking, Big Data, the Internet of Things, the Internet of Everything, you name it, we get asked how do we get the balance right? How does one work with the rigidity of Open Standards and the fluidity of Open Source, particularly in the Network? There is only one answer, think of it as the Yang of Open Standards, the Yin of Open Source, they need each other, they can not function without the other, particularly in the Network.  Open Source is just the other side, the wild side!

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