Cisco Creates Migration Path to ACI

Cisco customers running Nexus environments can begin to deploy the ACI technology in their existing data centers.

Cisco Systems is making it easier for current customers to adopt its Application Centric Infrastructure by making it interoperate with legacy Cisco networking switches and routers, and by offering a migration plan for customers to implement ACI in their existing data centers.

The interoperability and migration path are among a larger series of announcements Cisco made May 16 around ACI, the vendor's play in the network virtualization space that leverages both its hardware expertise and software capabilities as well as a range of partnerships to create networks that are more dynamic, automated, programmable and cost-efficient.

The announcements also come a couple of days before the Cisco Live 2014 event in San Francisco, which kicks off May 18.

Cisco CEO John Chambers announced ACI—the bulk of which was created by Cisco's "spin-in" company Insieme, which Cisco has since bought—in November 2013, saying the goal was to create an initiative that would make it easier for customers to meet the rapidly changing demands on the infrastructure from such trends as cloud computing, mobility and big data. It's also Cisco's answer to the growing software-defined networking (SDN) trend, which is being adopted by most established networking vendors and a growing number of smaller companies.

During a conference call with analysts and journalists May 14 to discuss quarterly financial numbers, Chambers said ACI was establishing Cisco as a key player in SDN.

"When we launched into the market in November, we laid out a roadmap for our customers on how we could deliver on the benefits and promises of SDN," he said. "The traction we are seeing with our application-centric solutions gives me great confidence that we are leading the transition to SDN."

With the latest moves, Cisco is looking to expand the reach of ACI among customers, including those that have an established Cisco infrastructure already in place.

"Many already have existing Nexus pods," Ish Limkakeng, vice president of marketing at Cisco, told eWEEK, adding that Cisco is looking to enable those customers to get the benefits of ACI while protecting the investments they've already made in their infrastructures.

According to Limkakeng, businesses can leverage Cisco's Application-centric Virtual Switch (AVS), a Nexus 1000V virtual switch enabled with Cisco's Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) or the Nexus 9000 switch (the infrastructure for ACI) as a remote leaf within their data centers to extend ACI capabilities to both physical and virtual workloads in existing Nexus environments.

In addition, the Nexus 7000 Series switches and ASR 9000 router will be integrated into the ACI fabric as a data center interconnect (DCI) gateway/router.

The interoperability and migration path are aimed at data centers running Cisco's Nexus 2000, 3000, 5000, 6000 and 7000 switches and ASR 9000 routers. In addition, vendors like F5 Networks and Citrix Systems, which are part of the ACI ecosystem, can have their Layer 4-7 services deployed in existing Nexus environments or in the ACI mode with no hardware upgrades needed, Cisco officials said.

Cisco also is adding ACI and Nexus 9000 support to UCS Director 5.0, the management software for its Unified Computing System converged data center solution. The integration will give customers a single point from which to manage and deploy physical and virtual resources.

"It's all about giving customers a complete solution not just across the network, but across servers, storage [and] networks," Limkakeng said.

The company is adding new ACI-ready switches to the Nexus 9000 portfolio, rolling out Cisco Services for ACI that touch on everything from data center strategy and assessment to design and validation, and including two other vendors—Nutanix and Radware—to the ACI ecosystem. Cisco also is working with SDN vendor Embrane to create lifecycle management solutions for businesses that deploy virtualized Layer 407 services via ACI.

ACI capabilities also are being integrated into integrated data center systems that Cisco is a part of, the Vblock offerings from VCE and FlexPods, which it builds with NetApp.

During the May 14 conference call, Cisco's Chambers noted the momentum behind ACI and the Nexus 9000, pointing out that the customer base has grown from 20 to 175 now and a pipeline of 1,000. Cisco officials also said that more than 70 customers and partners have been running trials with ACI.

Limkakeng also said that the company's APIC—the centerpiece of the ACI initiative—will ship on time this summer.

"We're right on track from an execution standpoint," he said.