This 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.
In less than 48 hours, on Nov 6th, Cisco will officially announce details of its approach to Application Centric Infrastructure based on innovations from Insieme networks.
[To join our Webcast with John Chambers and Insieme Soni Jiandani on Wednesday November 6 at 10:30 am EST/7:30 am PST register here ]
No doubt that there are great expectations riding on this announcement. In part due to Insieme’s pedigree, and in part due to the promise it brings. The former I covered in my previous blog – Application Centric Infrastructure gets ready to rumble. As for the latter, it is important to put the promise in perspective.
As businesses of all sizes continue to pump billions of dollars of investment into data center and cloud IT and consumption models, the expectations for IT to generate a credible RoI in terms of business agility, productivity and efficiency has never been higher. IT today epitomizes a very powerful business function that directly impacts agility and contributes to bottomline and customer experience. It is but natural to think of data centers are futuristic, glamorous environments, quietly humming away transforming businesses at their core. Many new data centers are in fact that, and seem to come out for sci-fi movie.
However, in a majority of cases, many data centers have just “grown-up” too fast over the last decade that saw adhoc spurts in data center consolidation and server virtualization. While both phases have provided tremendous benefits in terms of efficiencies and economies of scale, they have also contributed their mite to increasing operational complexity. From cabling sprawl, to network and server sprawl, to VM sprawl – the rapid growth has in some cases negated cost efficiencies gained through server virtualization. The same can be said of software stacks with complex licensing and version control issues. The affinity to applications in this chaos has somehow been either taken for granted or partially lost in the complexity, making it harder to bring predictability into application deployments or troubleshooting, leading to both time and cost overruns. How can this be simplified? How can infrastructure be better linked to the needs of applications? How to make life simpler for data center operations and facilitate a better application experience?
Per a survey conducted by ESG last year, 63% of IT pros say new app deployments take a month or more, 50% say upgrades take just as long. 77% of enterprise IT pros say they would manage more than 150 applications over the next year. This is a lot! For IT to deliver high performing apps, they need a way for infrastructure to automatically respond to the needs of the application, and to have excellent visibility when something goes wrong and requires troubleshooting during application deployments or upgrades.
As we continue to expand on the conversation of the Cisco Open Network Environment (Cisco ONE), this week provides yet another educational opportunity (Register here) to discuss a topic that has become some what top of mind to customers, partners and even investors alike. This is the topic of open source in networked environments. While Cisco has always been known for open standards, it has now stepped up into the open source conversation in a fairly big way over the couple of years with its contributions to both OpenStack and the more recent OpenDaylight project under the Linux foundation.
While the topic of Open Source is not new, the topic of using open source in today’s networks has gained momentum in recent times, which, not surprisingly, coincides with the broader conversation of open networking. While there is considerable interest, there is also a lot of confusion. Several questions pop-up:
- What is Open Source vs. an Open Standard?
- How do Open Source consortiums work? What is the governance model?
- What are the security implications of Open Source based implementations?
- What are the likes of Cisco and IBM doing in this space?
- What is the Open Daylight project?
- Is open networking the same as open-source networking?
If you would like to get an overview of not only mechanics behind open source projects and communities, but also get a great overview of the recently announced OpenDaylight project from the Linux Foundation, I invite you to register for the 4th session of the Cisco Open Network Environment webcast series “Using Open Source in Networked Environments – Discover the Possibilities and Benefits” broadcasting on June 18th at 9 a.m. PST.
Joining me in this webcast as I host three industry luminaries in the Open Source community including Michael Enescu, Cisco Chief Technology Officer for Open Source Initiatives at Cisco, Daniel Frye, Vice president of Open Systems Development from IBM joining and Jim Zemlin the Executive Director of the Linux foundation.
As the hype cycle around aspects of concepts like software-defined networking continue, customers are continuing to sift through and educate themselves to determine what is real and actionable. I have had my fair share of participation in several events over the last 24 months, and have been speaking to different audiences both gaining and sharing insights in the process.
One person I spoke with recently was Dr. Jim Metzler. We seem to be crossing paths at multiple venues including Interop, the Network World SDN roadshows currently underway in a few cities in the United States, as well, as at the Open Network Summit in Santa Clara a few weeks ago.
Jim has become the messiah of sorts, on some of these emerging technologies, and is frequently consulted -- both as part of his day job at Ashton, Metzler and associates and during his role hosting various industry panels on these topics. I thought it would be good to host the host and get some of his perspectives here, as we both got together at the recently held Open Networking Summit at Santa Clara.