Cisco Will Ship ACI Technology July 31

The offerings will include the controller and starter kits to get organizations up and running on ACI quickly.

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Cisco Systems officials say the company is days away from making its Application Centric Infrastructure technology generally available—just about a year after the company first introduced its answer to the growing network virtualization trend.

Cisco will begin shipping its Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) and prepackaged Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) "starter kits" July 31, according to Thomas Scheibe, director of product management at Cisco. In addition, the company announced July 29 that it is pricing the ACI software licenses on a per-leaf basis, is offering new and enhanced Nexus switches, and will roll out new line cards in the fourth quarter.

The launch of the ACI technology is the next significant step in the networking giant's strategy to help businesses address the new demands being put on the network by such trends as big data, mobile computing and the cloud, and the rising competition from the growing numbers of software-defined networking (SDN) initiatives. The bulk of the technology comes from Cisco's Insieme "spin-in" venture, and the company first broached the ACI idea last year at the Cisco Live 2013 show.

The goal of the ACI strategy is to use a combination of software and hardware to create networking infrastructures that can be optimized in both physical and virtual environments and that can leverage partnerships with other vendors to get the best performance out of applications.

SDN and network-functions virtualization (NFV) call for creating more programmable and automated networks by decoupling the control plane from the underlying infrastructure, and by moving such networking tasks as load balancing, firewalls and intrusion-detection capabilities from the physical switches and routers and into software that can be run on commodity servers. Some analysts and vendors have argued that SDN and NFV are a threat to Cisco and other networking hardware vendors by enabling organizations to run their networks on off-the-shelf servers rather than complex and expensive switches and routers.

However, Cisco officials have argued that while SDN initiatives focus on software, what's needed is a combination of open and optimized hardware and software. For example, while most SDN controllers that leverage the OpenFlow protocol directly control the switch, Cisco's APIC instead sets policies, then pushes those policies to the switches, which put the policies into practice.

Cisco has deployed ACI in its San Jose, Calif., data center, and APIC was beta-tested by more than 175 customers.