F5 Networks and Citrix extend Cisco ACI to L4-L7

F5 Networks and Citrix extend Cisco ACI to L4-L7

Pushing policy control to the network’s upper layers.

Security breaches don’t always occur at the perimeter of a network. Session hijacking, SQL injection, and other data attacks frequently take place in the application layer.

“Hackers are frauding the application itself, going straight through the firewall,” says Nathan Pearce, principal technologist for programmable networks at F5 Networks. “And it looks like normal TCP traffic.”

The point is this:

  • Security and policy control cannot be limited to the core networking layers (L2-L3).
  • They must be extended to the upper layers of the network (L4-L7) where application services are delivered.

That’s why technology leaders like F5 and Citrix have adopted Cisco® Application Centric Infrastructure (Cisco ACI), extending the benefits of software-defined automation and policy control to L4-L7.

Reducing complexity, increasing speed
Applications are more distributed than ever before, and they are constantly being augmented. While server and storage virtualization has helped facilitate the dynamic nature of modern applications—and the business functions they serve—the network has remained largely static and rigid.

“It can’t take weeks to configure the network when applications are changing on a daily basis,” says Raj Gulani, director of product management at Citrix. “The network must maintain pace, up and down the stack.”

Switches, routers, firewalls, load balancers, and DNS services all require command lines—for each application. And all applications must be manually synchronized across a multitude of physical and virtual environments.

“Today’s applications have too many touchpoints, and defining every bit of network plumbing takes too long,” Pearce says. “We needed to get away from single command lines for each and every device, which is time consuming, prone to human error, and takes applications offline when changes need to be made.”

The answer? Network abstraction, where configuration and deployment are based on the application itself and not the network devices. And where a single policy for each application can be extended anywhere the application is stored and accessed.

A fully automated network

“ACI defines the policy for connectivity—switching, routing, load balancing, firewalls—but you still need to extend that policy to the application services that ensure high performance, availability, and security,” says Pearce.

  • F5 has integrated the Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) with its Software Defined Application Services, directly incorporating F5 application solutions into the Cisco ACI automation framework.
  • Using F5 application services templates, known as iApps, application policies can be developed once and easily replicated without re-creating every single command line.

“There’s really no point in addressing L2 and L3 without addressing L4 through L7, and vice versa,” says Pearce. “Organizations need full-stack integration and automation, and that’s what we’ve done with ACI and F5 application solutions. It’s a higher level of abstraction; like a menu without having to know all of the ingredients or how to cook the dish.”

  • The Citrix NetScaler Device Package for Cisco ACI has also been integrated with the APIC, enabling the orchestration of Citrix network fabrics.
  • The integration provides software-defined policy control from L2-L7 that can be managed directly through the APIC, delivering end-to-end health monitoring and telemetry. 

“We’ve effectively automated the network,” says Gulani. “We have work to do to educate others on how to take advantage of this new technology, but I have no doubt that it will become more mainstream.”

  • With L2-L7 integration, customers can automate network configurations and connectivity as well as higher level application services surrounding TCP/HTTP optimization, data security, and performance monitoring.
  • They can react faster to application changes, fluctuating demand, and potential attacks.
  • And they can improve their compliance posture while reducing the possibility of human errors and downtime.

“Customers want to see that this is real, and we are happy to show them,” says Gulani. “That’s when they realize the true value and power of this integration, and its ability to spawn innovation and differentiation.”

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