Wanting to secure market share and wrest control in a dynamic and competitive landscape, many technology titans have built their products and solutions in proprietary fashion. While these solutions are often highly capable, their ability to connect with other systems is restricted, and the opportunity for others to further advance and build on them is inherently limited.
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- Different server and storage systems
- Different networking components
- Different hypervisors
- Diverse management tools for security, load balancing, and firewalls
- A growing number of clouds and data centers—internal and external, physical and virtual
To have a broad and transformative impact, emerging solutions must be open. They must play nicely with a wide array of technologies. And they must expand the possibilities for systems integration and community-driven advancement, not limit them.
“We are witnessing the collision of two major trends: the maturation of open source software, and the redefinition of infrastructure policy,” says Mike Cohen, director of product management for Cisco. “The trend toward open source is self evident. Platforms such as OpenStack and OpenDaylight are gaining huge developer mindshare and support from major vendors. The trend around policy is revolutionizing the way compute, network, and storage resources are requested and distributed between different components.”
Cisco has actively embraced both of these trends, Cohen says. And Cisco® Application Centric Infrastructure (Cisco ACI™)—a holistic architecture with centralized automation and policy-driven application profiles—is a prime example. Built on open source tools, open standards, and open APIs, Cisco ACI is redefining infrastructure policy in the most accessible manner possible.
“To maximize the value of any technology, it must be fully integrated with a range of devices and environments, with visibility and automation across all of them,” Cohen says. “Cisco is an active contributor to more than 100 open source projects. We were founding members of OpenStack Neutron and OpenDaylight. And we are 100 percent committed to community-driven development. These open source principles and elements are ingrained in ACI.”
Open building blocks, open source development
Cisco Nexus® 9000 Series Switches and the Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) are the building blocks for Cisco ACI. Two initiatives are making sure these building blocks can be utilized by the open source community.
The first is a group-based policy model and associated APIs for OpenStack Neutron and OpenDaylight, which express an application’s resource requirements to any software or hardware infrastructure. The second is an open source protocol—called OpFlex—that pushes policies from a controller to any device. Cisco is collaborating with a variety of partners, including Intel®, to develop these policy models, APIs, and protocols.
“To increase utilization and performance while supporting SLAs (service level agreements) and reducing total cost of ownership, applications need to be aware of the infrastructure’s capabilities. Policy-driven control and integration with the orchestration layer will play a strategic role in enabling this awareness,” says Uri Elzur, director of SDN architecture for Intel. “We’re working closely with Cisco and the open source community to develop protocols like OpFlex, which help orchestrate policies no matter what devices are being used.”
No lock in
According to a recent Lippis Consulting report1, Cisco ACI is at the epicenter of IT infrastructure, which requires great trust that the technology will work securely to configure network and service infrastructure on behalf of applications. Cisco’s commitment to building the infrastructure via open standards will be critical to its success. If Cisco ACI can support a wide range of network vendors’ equipment via OpFlex, northbound systems, and interoperable inter-policy management that allows true plug-and-play without lock in, then Cisco ACI will be highly successful.
“While our initial goal with this effort was simply to drive standards and interoperability, we’re now focused on a larger vision,” Cohen says. “We’re working with our ecosystem of partners and the open source community to make open source infrastructure more scalable, easier to automate, and simpler to use.
“We don’t want to lock people in. We want to win on the merits of our framework.”
1Lippis Consulting, Lippis Report 220: How Open is Cisco’s ACI? March 2014