With 70% market share in the switching and routing market (Synergy Group, 2012), and segment revenue of $14.7B, Cisco seemingly faces an increasing threat to its business with the emergence of ‘Software Defined Networking’ (SDN). However, Cisco is never a business to sit still, and when challenged to defend its top market position, it has again responded with an innovative new solution – Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI).
Software Defined Networking
Cloud and Big Data are driving a paradigm shift in application infrastructure with respect to how the applications are deployed and scaled out. Technologies like Hadoop and delivery models or approaches like SaaS, DevOps, and public/private/hybrid cloud models are changing the way IT must move, add, and change application environments including their network, compute, and storage configurations in large enterprise data centers, whether on-premise or hosted. IT must be ready to deploy entire application environments instantly and dynamically – and then modify or remove them just as quickly. Traditional silo-based models of infrastructure, networks, and applications do not even come close to supporting such environments and applications.
The rapid rise in SDN tries to address these needs by simplifying and automating network configurations in a central software controller. For automating the time-consuming and error-prone work of network configurations, especially for frequently changing environments, this centralized abstraction of the control planes from the network devices has proved both logical and popular, and indeed many have jumped on this new and hot bandwagon.
However, SDN is no silver bullet and programmability for network virtualization in another silo that does not fully address demanding application infrastructure needs. Highly scalable applications must fit not only onto new-style cloud platforms, but also onto traditional and non-virtualized infrastructures (typically – but not always – Linux-based), while still scaling-out to multi-node end-points and multiple hybrid and private cloud models. Application-aware infrastructures must also be visible from development to deployment and beyond (a core factor for a DevOps approach).
Current SDN approaches primarily implement WAN-centric, software-based, network configuration automation that leverages control plane abstraction; and some software-based virtualization that addresses application infrastructure demands by cloning LAN emulations. However, such approaches require various hypervisor integrations, and still lack transparency and visibility for the application constructs; essentially just replacing physical silos with virtual ones.
Truly dynamic resource pools cannot be based on yet another layer of virtualization that does not support the necessary constructs of such applications. Instead, they require physical, virtual, or hybrid infrastructure models, and secured multi-tenant compartments, that can be dynamically changed and connected, with persistent application tiers in every instance and dynamic configuration of networking connectivity.
These new applications demand a game-changing new infrastructure fluidity.
Cisco’s Response – Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI)
This is why on Nov 6, Cisco (via its spin-in Insieme Networks) launched Cisco ACI. Initially targeted at its mega data center customers, this is a new approach to simplification and automation of networking infrastructure, especially for increasingly important cloud and big data applications.
At its core, Cisco ACI is application-centric, putting the application node/endpoint constructs at the center, and surrounding them with policy-based profiles and programmability. A common platform; integrated physical, virtual, and cloud environments; and a common policy management system empowers end user and partner collaboration. With extensive application-centric network automation, a solutions-based approach to telemetry, and rich openness (including open APIs, open source, and open standards), Cisco ACI offers a very different solution from the many high-priced acquisitions that we have seen in SDN area.
Combining the flexibility of software with the performance visibility of hardware to support the high velocity of today’s “anywhere, anytime” workloads, Cisco ACI takes SDN to a new level, addressing the needs of these new application-centric infrastructures more completely than ever before.
IT Management helps realize technology innovation with ACI for areas like DevOps, Application Performance Management
Of course, with any IT innovation comes the need for the management solutions to operationalize it, and to realize its promised value. That is why CA Technologies plans to support these new systems with critical health, availability, fault, performance, and security management capabilities.
Especially as customers transition to this new application infrastructure powered by Cisco ACI, but also as they mature to support a hybrid of traditional and current SDN/non-SDN infrastructures, these management capabilities from CA Technologies help make the promise of ACI a reality for IT operations, especially for cloud platforms, big data applications, and agile DevOps approaches.
With collaboration between Cisco ACI and CA Technologies management solutions, IT management can be well positioned to tackle the challenges of:
- Unifying Performance Management – Application Performance Management with application affinity and infrastructure visibility, enabling dramatically better efficiency for application admins
- Application-Centric Capacity Management – directly catering to application demands with a closed loop feeding back to automation, instead of through multiple opaque technology layers
- DevOps Automation – satisfying environmental needs directly to individual application level with a range of continuous deployment options
- Transition and acceleration to ACI – providing a seamless experience for customers’ moving from current application infrastructures to Cisco ACI
Cisco ACI is a great innovation in its own right, but the value is increased with support from CA Technologies. More details on ACI can be found on Cisco’s microsite.