Unleashing IT: What is Cisco® Application Centric Infrastructure (Cisco ACI™)?
Soni Jiandani: Conceptually, ACI is very simple. It’s all about giving the network the ability to deploy and respond to the needs of applications, both in the data center and in the cloud. The network must be able to deliver the right levels of connectivity, security, compliance, firewalls, and load balancing, and it must be able to do this dynamically and on demand.
UIT: How is this accomplished?
SJ: Through centrally defined policies and application profiles. The profiles are managed by our new Application Policy Infrastructure Controller [APIC] and distributed to switches like the Cisco Nexus® 9000 Series. An open, southbound API that we are developing with Intel® and other partners, called OpFlex, will allow the APIC to support different switches, hypervisors, firewalls, load balancers, and security solutions.
UIT: What are the benefits of this approach?
SJ: A centralized policy controller offers significant advantages. The policies are portable, which means they can be pushed across a distributed network environment—both physical and virtual—to ensure consistent application behavior. Because these profiles are managed centrally, auditing and compliance is much easier. And the network becomes more dynamic, which increases efficiency and utilization.
UIT: Why is Cisco ACI needed?
SJ: Applications are increasingly complex and distributed, but the network has traditionally been hard coded and largely static. So there is a need to make it more dynamic in support of applications, there is a need for more automation, and there is a need to speed up application development, deployment, and changes. ACI satisfies all of these needs.
UIT: What does this mean from a business standpoint?
SJ: An agile, dynamic, and highly secure infrastructure allows companies to drive down capital and operating expenses. It facilitates the transition to the hybrid cloud while protecting existing assets and investments. And it helps companies serve the evolving needs of their customers and create competitive differentiation faster than ever before.
UIT: How is Intel involved?
SJ: We are working very closely with Intel to develop OpFlex and extend ACI’s support of OpenStack. Our customers are increasingly asking for open, standards-based systems that can operate in multivendor environments, with seamless orchestration, automation, and security. We are working with Intel to deliver open systems and ASICs that meet these needs.
UIT: How is Cisco ACI different from other software-defined networking (SDN) models?
SJ: ACI is SDN plus a whole lot more. Other SDN models stop at the network. ACI extends the promise of SDN—namely agility and automation—to the applications themselves. Through a policy-driven model, the network can cater to the needs of each application, with security, network segmentation, and automation at scale. And it can do so across physical and virtual environments, with a single pane of management.
UIT: How can companies get started with Cisco ACI?
SJ: Startup kits are now available, and we have several design guides with validated designs and migration paths. Cisco Services is also able to help, and can show how to leverage existing systems and investments while taking advantage of ACI. More information is available at cisco.com/go/aci.
UIT: Thank you for your time.
SJ: It was my pleasure.
The building blocks of Cisco ACI
Cisco ACI is a holistic architecture with centralized automation and policy-driven application profiles, delivering software flexibility with the scalability of hardware performance. The building blocks of Cisco ACI include:
- Cisco Nexus® 9000 Series Switches, designed to support next-generation data centers based on an application-centric strategy
- Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), the centralized, application-level policy engine for physical, virtual, and cloud infrastructures
- Cisco Application Virtual Switch (AVS), a hypervisor-based virtual switch that enables intelligent policy enforcement and optimal traffic steering for virtual applications
- OpFlex, an open, southbound protocol that allows the APIC to push policies across heterogeneous physical and virtual environments, regardless of the switches, hypervisors, firewalls, load balancers, and security tools being used
“ACI fundamentally changes the way networks are managed and the way they behave,” says Harry Petty, director of market management at Cisco. “It utilizes predefined policies to automate network provisioning, creating a more agile infrastructure that can dynamically support diverse application needs across diverse physical and virtual environments.”
“I’m very excited to see the tremendous momentum and interest for ACI across all our customer segments in the data center,” says Frank Palumbo, Senior Vice President of Data Center and Virtualization Architectures for Cisco. “The ACI architecture fundamentally revolutionizes the way network and infrastructure elements support applications. Our customers love the fact that it creates both CapEx and OpEx savings while making IT more agile and efficient.”