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Revolutions are usually led by challengers, not incumbents.  But Cisco’s Nov. 6th mega-launch of Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) is sounding revolutionary as described by some experienced industry watchers.  Any revolution must transform the experience of its participants – in this case , the Application development teams, DevOps and CloudOps that are provisioning new applications in many mid-to-large Enterprise Data Centers.  As John Chambers said at Interop “The ability to create an infrastructure that is agile, simplified, automatically programmable and able to scale on demand is critical to enabling the application model”.  In this blog, we’ll zoom in on “Agility”  as an experience.

The growing agility gap

In the last decade, Cisco and other equipment providers have greatly improved the agility of data center infrastructure – the ability to respond quickly to new demands for scale, performance and security.   Technologies such as a unified fabric, virtualization and infrastructure controllers augmented by intelligent Automation and Governance have greatly simplified the management of the infrastructure.

But there is strong evidence that the demand for agility is increasing even faster – creating a growing agility gap.


Compared to traditional backoffice applications, new Mobile, Social and Big Data applications  are much more dynamic due multi-tenancy, higher demand peaks, more distributed users, broader device support, varying performance needs,  24×7 global usage, and changing security vulnerabilities.    Furthermore, to run economically at scale with performance and availability, these applications need a mix of virtualized and dedicated, “bare-metal” resources.  And the reality is that only 40% of workloads are virtualized anyway in most enterprise data centers.

These factors are driving more distributed workloads and storage across the data center, more frequent changes to ports, LANs and subnets, more re-configurations of security and load-balancing, more application and flow optimizations and more monitoring and diagnostics to ensure application metrics.

Data center teams are getting overwhelmed.  IDC’s 2011 research showed that total Data Center spend has shifted to these type of management and administration tasks – and that was just for virtualized servers.  New bare metal workloads will increase this spend further as they move to scale, unless something is done.

Automating application processes

Infrastructure teams have always managed connectivity, configuration, monitoring and diagnostics.  But these activities escalate dramatically when new dynamic applications move in to full scale production.


First, Application admins, Security admins and Infrastructure teams must work together, iteratively on deployment.  This includes designing the application layout, describing all device and functional dependencies, instantiating L4-L7 services, connecting nodes and services, provisioning applications and finally testing and certifying application behavior in a variety of scenarios.

Once the application is in operation, DevOps must monitor and resolve application issues such as slow response, services not being reachable, scale limits and cyberthreats.  Again, separate functional specializations  must work together to isolate application problems down to “faults” within specific devices and network paths.  Remediation can range from a minor FRU replacement to a partial re-deployment including re-design, layout, instantiation, provisioning, testing.

Cloud Automation has held the promise of simplifying the provisioning of dynamic applications.  Well known examples of private and public clouds do automate the supporting infrastructure workflows to ensure scale, multi-tenancy, compliance and service governance.  But creating these offerings, took enormous upfront effort in designing a responsive infrastructure, particularly the network.  For new implementations, many enterprise data centers are currently undergoing multi-year transitions.  Some of this effort is clearly focused on defining services and SLAs.  But the rest is on implementing visibility and inserting programmatic hooks to a multi-vendor jungle of virtual and physical devices…not to mention the additional effort of incorporating new or upgraded devices.

What both Cloud and DevOps teams need is a way to state requirements and policies at the application level and have them automatically translated in to complete infrastructure connectivity and network services.  What they also need is a way to monitor performance metrics, detect deviations from those requirements and isolate them in real-time down to device and traffic flows.  This would bypass time intensive deployment and operations processes described above.  This is the broad vision for Application Centric Infrastructure.

To find out more about Cisco’s implementation of ACI refer to an excellent blog from Gary Kinghorn.  The promise of an Application Centric Infrastructure. And join Cisco on Nov. 6th.

So, is this a revolution?  Time will tell.  But it does have to potential to transform the end-user’s experience.








Sandeep Agrawal

Sr. Product Line Manager

Security Business Group