I was reading a recent post over on Ethereal Mind about VCE choosing to go with Cisco ACI for their software defined networking strategy (read more about that here). It’s an old article from Greg but it hits on something that’s bothered me recently. I wrote about Cisco ACI a few months ago and the problems that are faced by those that use OTV on Nexus 7000 switches. As I mentioned then ACI is not something that I can even consider until FCoE is supported as well as OTV on the Nexus 9000 ASIC.
Cisco and NetApp joined forces last year to let everyone know that Flexpod will not support VMware NSX (CRN & Network World). This is a sad state of affairs. NSX is really picking up speed and out of all the enterprise based software defined networking solutions out there it’s the best pick of the bunch but the simple fact that Flexpod is not going to support it rules it out for quite a few customers. I can think of quite a few use cases for NSX within our environment but without support it’s suicidal to doing anything with it. I only hope that Cisco and NetApp rethink their decision on NSX in the future to open up a great tool to their customers rather than restricting their customers to a solution that is not yet mature enough to provide all the services that are required to support Flexpod. I understand Ciscos need to push ACI but if their product doesn’t support some fundamental features please don’t lock customers down to not being able to use other, potentially superior, tools.
Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to be invited to an ACI Test Drive run by Firefly on behalf of Cisco. Recently I attended the Cisco Roadshow in Melbourne and was really interested in the speech by Dave Robbins around ACI. I’ve read quite a bit about ACI recently but wasn’t able to really picture in my head what is is, how it works and what benefits if any it can provide for me. Cisco have been really pushing ACI hard on the various media streams lately. There’s has also been quite a bit of discussion around the competition between Cisco with it’s ACI fabric and VMware’s NSX network virtualisation software. I’ve heard about NSX but haven’t had a chance as yet to play about with it. When the opportunity arose to join a test drive workshop on ACI it was too good to miss so I jumped at the chance. My background is not in networking but in virtualisation, compute and storage so I thought it would be a good opportunity to brush up on my networking skills at the same time. It’s definitely my weakest area so I’ve made a commitment to myself to work on my networking knowledge and understanding as much as I can.
What is ACI?
ACI is the new vision for Cisco to manage their data center networks into the future. ACI is an application centric, software/policy driven, leaf-spine architecture that abstracts the logical definition of the physical hardware to provide re-usable and extensible policies for quick deployment of network infrastructure. ACI extends the principles of the Cisco UCS service profiles to the entire network fabric. The Nexus 9000 series released by Cisco earlier this year is at the core of the new ACI platform. There are a number of 9000 series switches in the family which I’ll go into more detail soon, but one item of note in all of the Nexus 9000 switches is that they can be run in standalone mode with NX-OS installed or in ACI mode (with two exceptions) which involves having the ACI ASIC installed in the switch. The line speed of the standalone version is phenomenal and can be used by developers to use their own custom code. This opens up the range to a great number of possibilities and puts it into direct competition with Arista who already have this capability. The Nexus 9000 comes with a merchant Broadcom chip for standalone mode and combines the ACI chip for ACI fabric related operations.