Cisco Touts Application-Centric Data Center Architecture

Company officials say Cisco's Application-Centric Infrastructure addresses the application demands raised by cloud and mobility, and is a better option than SDN.

Cisco Systems officials are unveiling a data center architecture that they say will focus on the new kinds of applications coming from the cloud and mobile worlds and deliver to businesses the tools to make their infrastructures simpler, more scalable and more cost-effective.

Announced June 26 at the company’s Cisco Live 2013 conference in Orlando, Fla., Cisco’s Application-Centric Infrastructure is aimed at bringing greater automation, programmability and openness to data center infrastructures without having to make wholesale investments in new hardware. The first parts of the architecture will begin rolling out in the second half of the year.

At the show, Cisco also introduced enhancements to its Unified Fabric offerings, including new provisioning and management capabilities and new networking switches.

The new architecture also is the first fruits of Cisco’s investment in the spin-in company Insieme, which launched last year amid the rise of the software-defined networking (SDN) trend. Cisco owns about 85 percent of Insieme. Speculation around the new company has involved SDN, though Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior said Cisco’s new effort goes beyond SDN.

“SDN promised to meet the needs of new apps by delivering greater scale, programmability, centralized management and automation,” Warrior wrote in a June 26 post on the Cisco blog. “But SDN, to date, can’t meet the needs of applications because it mimics the old model of networking. It doesn’t unify physical and virtual. It is flow-based (focused on individual networking elements), and not object-oriented (creating a configurable system of all IT resources). It can’t offer dynamic centralized policy management [and] programmability because it is constrained by old proprietary-standards model.”

Cisco’s Application-Centric Infrastructure will bring that management and programmability that SDN is lacking, she said.

It comes at a time when cloud computing and mobility are bringing new kinds of applications to the data center, from Hadoop and other big data applications to cloud applications like Salesforce and Cisco’s WebEx to highly scalable mobile applications like NetFlix and YouTube, Warrior said.

“The challenge with these applications in particular is that they need to be able to run across multiple servers and data centers, be able to parallel process asynchronous tasks, and be continually available, globally,” she wrote. “These applications rely on both physical and virtual infrastructures and, as a result, place new demands on the data center to deliver applications at scale, with the level of availability, quality of service and flexibility that today’s businesses demand. Through our Application Centric Infrastructure vision, we will help IT departments dramatically simplify how they provision their data center resources (networking, servers, storage and services) that are critical to the performance of their applications.”