Will Cisco's App-Aware ACI Revolutionize the Data Center?
Application-centric is the technology of the week. After F5 announced its software-defined application services, Cisco followed up by announcing its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI).
ACI couples innovations in software, hardware, systems and ASICS with an application-aware network policy model built around open APIs that reduce application deployment from months to minutes. Cisco calls ACI the first data center and cloud solution to offer full visibility and integrated management of both physical and virtual networked IT resources -- all built around the needs of applications.
“Applications have become the lifeblood of our economy. They are how business is done; how partners and suppliers interact; how employees connect; how consumers share, learn and buy,” Cisco CEO John Chambers wrote in a blog post. “Every business is becoming an applications business. Every industry is becoming an application-centric industry, and the business model shift is only accelerating. We all truly live in an application economy now.”
Breaking Down Silos
As billions of new valuable connections form to create an Internet of Everything that most of us will experience through applications, Cisco said, the focus on rapid and consistent application deployment becomes even greater. The role of the network, as the unifying technology connecting users, applications and data centers, becomes critical.
But here’s the problem: The complexity and inflexibility of IT is slowing business down. IT professionals work in separate inefficient silos because current technology doesn't support a shared architectural model, and there is no way to gain a single view of all the technology components that impact application performance. As a result, the IT components are difficult to configure, complex to troubleshoot, and cumbersome to change. That, Cisco said, has to change -- complexity must give way to speed and agility.
CIOs want to break down these silos and unify all the component parts of IT -- networking, storage, compute, network services, applications, security -- and manage them as a single, dynamic, entity without compromise, Cisco said, and that's what ACI intends to accomplish.
Here’s how it works: ACI unifies physical and virtual networks, offering security, compliance and real-time visibility at the system, tenant, and application levels at unprecedented scale. Cisco said its ACI data center switching innovations allow the network to rapidly respond to application development teams, while delivering up to 75 percent total cost of ownership savings compared to merchant silicon-based switches and software-only network virtualization solutions.
A Rising Tide
We caught up with Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, who attended Cisco’s announcement event. He told us ACI is a bold vision -- and that a lot of the reports he has read miss the point.
“This is not about new products. It’s about making the process of provisioning IT infrastructure in data centers easier. Simply making changes to infrastructure can take months sometimes. Bringing up new applications can take months,” Kerravala said. “What Cisco is trying to do is take a task that is very labor intensive and make it simple. This isn’t going to be easy.”
Kerravala was impressed by Cisco’s ACI partner list, which include Citrix, Network Appliance, and EMC. The reason Cisco is garnering such widespread support is that the solution is a big boost for data centers. If Cisco’s ACI vision pans out, he predicted, it will create a rising tide for the whole industry.
“ACI is a major step forward. This is as big to the data center as VoIP was to telecom years ago,” he said. “Too much of the industry is focused around software defined networks that commoditize hardware. I don’t think customers want commoditized hardware. I think they want something that’s easier to use and easier to manage. That’s what Cisco is trying to bring.”