Cisco is aiming to simplify data centres with the launch of its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) strategy, which promises to make IT more responsive to the needs of applications. It also strikes back at network virtualisation technologies that Cisco claims will actually reduce visibility into network behaviour.
Announced today, ACI is intended to place enterprise applications at centre stage and make data centre infrastructure more responsive to their requirements through application aware network policies that govern the flow of traffic.
Cisco claims that ACI will break down IT silos and enable administrators to manage the networking, storage, compute, network services, applications, and security components in the data centre as a single dynamic entity.
Jim DeHaven, Cisco's UK Director of Data Centre & Virtualisation, told V3 that ACI is a major strategy shift for the firm.
"I view it as probably the single biggest technology transition that has been in Cisco's core business, particularly the switching business, since Cisco's inception. This is a ground-upwards open approach to go beyond where software defined networking (SDN) is today," he said.
ACI builds on concepts pioneered over the last few years such as Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) with its converged fabric and integrated storage and compute resources.
"This takes many of same concepts and expands the innovation into network programmability. The command line is probably going to be a thing of the past, and as we move forward, it's about a shift to object-oriented programmability in the network," DeHaven explained.
Initially, ACI revolves around a new Nexus 9000 family of switches, an Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), and enhanced versions of the NX-OS operating system.
The APIC is the main architectural component of ACI, according to DeHaven. All policy enforcement, automation and health monitoring will be through the APIC, which unifies management of physical and virtual infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the Nexus 9000 switch family will drive down networking costs, DeHaven claimed, allowing Cisco to "deliver 40Gbps at 10Gbps prices and 10Gbps roughly at 1Gbps prices".
However, it will also deliver an alternative solution to what DeHaven dubs overlay networks, referring to SDN platforms such as VMware's NSX, which uses the VXLAN protocol to encapsulate virtual network traffic for delivery across the physical network.
"While we are partners with VMware at the hypervisor level, we disagree with their approach to the network. Where you leverage tunnelling, you start to get less visibility into the flow of traffic and you become reliant on that overlay network. What we're talking about is leveraging what we have today plus a next-generation architecture to provide full visibility of the flow," DeHaven said.
Cisco's hostility to NSX is understandable, since it moves routing and traffic management into the hypervisor and threatens to relegate the physical network infrastructure to little more than a collection of static wiring.
The Nexus 9000 line initially comprises the 9508, an 8-slot rack-mount model designed for high-density end-of-row deployments, plus the 9396PX with 408 10Gbps and 12 40Gbps ports, and the 93128TX, which features 96 1/10Gbps and 8 40Gpbs ports.
Additional Nexus 9000 switch models will be added during 2014, Cisco said.
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