Cisco's ACI Initiative Draws Praise, Criticism
Dave Larson, chief technology officer for HP's networking business, had similar thoughts, saying in an email that "once again, Cisco ignores the [SDN] movement and instead seems to continue their focus on creating a 'hardware-defined' alternative [HDN] that locks customers into a proprietary Cisco network—denying customers the economic and game-changing simplification, automation and application development benefits promised by SDN." There also were some vendors who think Cisco was late to the game in linking the infrastructure to application needs. "I like the vision," Michael Bushong, vice president of marketing at SDN startup Plexxi, said on the company blog. "I like that they are putting applications where they ought to have been all along: at the start of the process. I like that our industry is starting to move away from a reactive networking approach to a more proactive infrastructure that plans for—rather than responds to—application demands. In fact, I like it so much, I joined a company that has been working towards this vision for the past three years." Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, said Cisco's ACI vision could benefit organizations. In a post on the No Jitter blog site, Kerravala said he has found that more than 80 percent of an organization's budget is "used to maintain the status quo. That leaves very little budget for new projects. In lieu of a massive budget increase, most companies need to find a way of lowering the cost of running the current environment, and the data center is a great place to start. … Cisco's ACI architecture is aimed at the big problem in data centers, which is that the costs of provisioning and management tasks associated with application delivery are way too high and getting higher.""Unlike the other SDN vendors, the primary problem Cisco is trying to solve has nothing to do with commoditizing the network," Kerravala wrote. "On paper, buying cheaper hardware makes some sense, but in practice, the overhead in using cheap stuff far outweighs any benefit one might get from saving a few nickels on network hardware." Overall, he said, "The big winner … is the customer. Virtualization, SDNs, cloud and mobility have made networks increasingly more agile but also increasingly more complex. Cisco's ACI allows customers to enjoy the benefits while simplifying the management of the infrastructure." Not all analysts agree. "Overall, while it is a solid switching fabric that improves network agility, [the new products are] based on an architectural model that will limit long-term innovation," Gartner analyst Andrew Lerner told EE Times. The approach requires "customers to buy network switches to achieve networking agility whether they need new switches or not. It is a proprietary solution that locks you in. You cannot add a non-Cisco switch into the fabric."
Forty percent of data center costs are related to people, so reducing the time to provision an application from weeks or months to minutes or hours could cut people costs significantly, he said. And such an argument goes back to the question of commodity hardware. Cisco argues that using cheaper hardware can increase operational costs by forcing organizations to integrate technology themselves.