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.
Cisco Will Ship ACI Technology July 31
Cisco initially will offer its APIC as a hardware appliance, based on the company’s Unified Computing System (UCS) C-series x86-based server. While the company will offer it as a software-only solution that can run on other x86 servers later, officials decided to first go with the UCS appliance “to make it easier for customers to have a good out-of-the-box experience and minimize the dependencies,” Scheibe told eWEEK.
The APIC will come in two versions: the APIC-M1 and APIC-Cluster-M1 for configurations with fewer than 1,000 10G leaf ports, and APIC-L1 and APIC-Cluster-L1, for those with more than 1,000 10G leaf endpoints.
The API starter kits are prepackaged offerings designed to help organizations more easily adopt Cisco’s technology, and are aimed at such uses as proof-of-concepts, R&D test deployments and small production deployments. They start at $250,000, and include Cisco’s APIC, fixed or modular spines, two or four leaf switches, and two or four ACI software licenses.
Organizations also can start ACI-enabling their data centers by running an ACI fabric in Nexus 9000 switches in conjunction with their Nexus 2000, 5000 and 7000 switches, creating an ACI pod, Scheibe said. The ACI fabric can be used to enforce policies in traffic sent its way, he said. The ACI environment can be expanded as time goes on.
Making software licensing on a per-leaf-switch basis gives customers a predictable model on which to base their decisions, Scheibe said. It also is a good tool for building out a use case, he said.
“You want some way of showing to your management team how this will pay off,” Scheibe said.
In addition, Cisco unveiled new Nexus 9500 eight- and 12-port 100G line cards, which will be available in the fourth quarter. They will offer up to 128 ports of 100G in a single chassis, and the cards will be able to be used in the same chassis, giving organizations greater control over the designs.
Also new are starter kits to help customers easily upgrade their Catalyst 6000 and 6500 end-of-row switches to the Nexus 9508 and the new X9464TX or X9564TX line card. A new switch for space-constrained designs—the 64-port Nexus 3164—runs the same NX-OS operating system that runs on the Nexus 9000s devices, and is available immediately, starting at $32,000.