At Cisco live! Orlando in June, Cisco unveiled its vision for an Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), a next-generation, secure data center fabric design. At the time, we were only able to unveil key conceptual aspects of ACI, but as we lead up to more detailed product announcements later this fall, we want to bring a little more clarity to the ACI vision, what it will mean for customers, and set the context for those announcements.

[Join our ACI Announcement Webcast on November 6, 7:30 AM PT/10:30 ET/15:30 GMT. Register here.]

ACI is designed around an application policy model, allowing the entire data center infrastructure to better align itself with application delivery requirements and the business policies of the organization. The entire objective of ACI is to allow the data center to respond dynamically to the changing needs of applications, rather than having applications conform to constraints imposed by the infrastructure. These policies automatically adapt the infrastructure (network, security, application, compute, and storage) to the needs of the business to drive shorter application deployment cycles.

ACI Diagram
ACI offers a highly optimized, application-aware fabric ideal for both physical and virtual workloads. Innovation in ASIC, hardware, software and orchestration results in greater scale, agility, visibility, optimization and flexibility.

The needs of today’s applications have changed, and the infrastructure has to meet different challenges across physical, virtual, and distributed scale out applications like Big Data.  Customers want to deploy these applications with full freedom to take advantage of the latest private, public and hybrid cloud models.  Application and business IT leaders are expecting a more agile and responsive infrastructure that allows them to deploy, change, and decommission applications free of constraint from underlying infrastructure dependencies.

If the primary objective is greater business agility, the next generation of business process agility depends on tightly coupling business models and application requirements to the entire data center infrastructure including networking, applications, security, storage and compute.  In comparison, ACI spans the entire infrastructure rather than the network-centric perspective of SDN.

Through a much different model and different interfaces, at all levels of the infrastructure, from ASICs, to software, device and system-level innovations, ACI will allow vastly greater levels of automation over the entire application life cycle, from provisioning to tear-down. Like SDN, ACI will allow for programmatic extensions, including open interfaces, and a robust ecosystem that creates layered solutions. The application, however, will be at the center of the policy model that drives infrastructure behavior. It’s a much easier model to align with business needs, since applications reflect business objectives much more readily than the IT infrastructure.

The vision for ACI and its extensibility to network, applications, security, compute and storage is perfectly aligned with Cisco’s goal of providing a holistic, unified data center infrastructure.  ACI will benefit our customers with shorter application deployment cycles, driving faster business processes and quicker time to market, resulting in a sustainable competitive advantage. Agility in application delivery will define competitiveness in the future, and only ACI takes the necessary holistic approach.

On November 6, Cisco will deliver on the promise of an Application Centric Infrastructure, empowering the network buying center to drive a holistic, standards-based architecture, bringing together the network, security, application, and cloud teams through the delivery of a next generation secure DC fabric and an open, policy-driven infrastructure with the scale of hardware and the flexibility of software.

Excited to learn more? You won’t want to miss the unveiling of the full ACI architecture, products and partner ecosystem. You can register for the ACI announcement webcast here.


John Furrier and Stu Miniman had the opportunity to talk with Soni Jiandani about ACI at the 2013 edition of VMworld in San Francisco.


Gary Kinghorn

Sr Solution Marketing Manager

Network Virtualization and SDN