I am Soni Jiandani, SVP of Marketing for Cisco’s Insieme Business Unit. Together with a team of veteran leaders and engineers, we continue to disrupt markets to drive industry transformation. Our latest disruption is focused on leapfrogging Software Defined Networks (SDN) with a holistic approach to the future of networking: Application Centric Infrastructure, or ACI for short.

My blog is timed with announcing the shipment of ACI – namely the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) with ACI mode for the Nexus 9000.  But this is not a corporate sales blog. My intent is to foster an open discussion about the future of the networking industry.

ACI: A key enabler to driving fast IT

We have spent the past few years to gather the best and the brightest engineering minds focused on one simple goal:  to design an infrastructure for our customers that meets the needs of applications today and in the future. These applications require dynamic, agile, fast, secure, scalable, reliable infrastructure that is automated as a native, baseline requirement.

Our whole approach to Software-Defined Networking (SDN) is very different from other models. By looking at the problem holistically, we’ve taken into account the variety of needs from a wide range of customers. We designed an infrastructure with the intent for co-existence of both physical and virtual networking worlds.

By focusing on the delivery of the application, we built a network based on its business requirements, including security and user experience services (L4-7).  We did this with an open approach, allowing our customers to pick and choose the best of breed virtual or physical appliances to meet their needs.

Simplicity is a core part of ACI. The simplicity comes through the use of a common policy framework that empowers teams across the IT environment with the ability to more rapidly and cost-effectively deploy applications. ACI automates across network, security and application teams driving consistency of policies, and at the core – as there should be – scale, security and support for multi-tenancy. This means a single network can run workloads for multiple purposes: existing and emerging cloud applications, development lifecycles spanning enterprise, service provider and cloud provider customers.

Unlike approaches that focus solely on the virtual machine, we looked at where the network is today and where it needs to go.  Today’s data center has workloads that are 70% virtualized, not 100%, and servers are only about one third virtualized.  With new high growth applications being bare metal in nature such as Big Data and the emerging Linux containers disrupting virtual machines, in 5-7 years, it will be less virtual in the traditional sense.

The networks of the future will be an elaboration of the mixed workloads of today.  Virtual machines will be used for specific workloads, bare-metal for others, and Linux containers like Docker for another set.

We took an approach that normalizes each of these, allowing them to be used where required and without the need for separate network tools.

Protect existing investment while realizing instant benefits

We’ve received positive customer feedback from those who have tested the Nexus 9000 and ACI over the past few months. We created a model to give our customers the ability to move their network into the next decade at their own pace. With the inherent flexibility of deploying ACI, our customers have the ability to gracefully transition to the required 10G, 40G and 100G speeds without the need for any rip-and-replace of existing networks and cabling plants.

A great example of this is NetApp. They chose Cisco’s ACI in its global development lab for this very reason, and are able to utilize the benefits today to create test scenarios, creating a DevOps methodology-driven private cloud. This allows them to speed up the time to market for their own products and customers.

Symantec IT found that with ACI, they are able to move to a more modern agile environment today. By having an ACI-automated IT infrastructure, they are able to significantly accelerate the detection and remediation of security issues with business critical applications.

Cisco’s IT Elastic Infrastructure Services (CITEIS), one of the largest data center environments in the world, has fully deployed ACI. As John Manville, SVP IT, Global Infrastructure Services, states:

“In Cisco IT we have deployed ACI in production, and we are continuously giving feedback to our engineering teams.  We are receiving significant benefits, while also seeing the competitive advantage due to the network policies and policy-based automation it brings.  The ACI technology represents potentially huge savings in IT operational costs.”

We look at ACI the way Wayne Gretzky looked at hockey: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is.  A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”  ACI is not a good architecture; it’s a great architecture.  We’ve designed a solution that takes customers where they need to be, with an on-ramp for where they are.

I want to hear what you think about our holistic approach to networking. And please share your own thoughts about the demands on your IT infrastructure in the coming decade. I promise a lively discussion.


Soni Jiandani

Senior Vice President

Marketing for the Insieme Business Unit at Cisco