Analysis of Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) platform


 Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) delivers the first data center and cloud solution to offer full visibility and integrated management of both physical and virtual networked IT resources.  

Leading companies supporting Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure include: BMC, CA Technologies, Citrix, EMC, Embrane, Emulex, F5, IBM, Microsoft, NetApp, Panduit, Puppet Labs, NIKSUN, OpsCode, Red Hat, SAP, Splunk, Symantec, VCE and VMware. 

ACI is comprised of the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), the Nexus 9000 portfolio, and enhanced versions of the NX-OS operating system. The Nexus 9000 family, running optimized NXOS, enables unmatched “zero-touch” operations across high performance data center networks, and can save customers millions of dollars in capital and operating expenses.

The new Nexus 9000 is also the foundation building block for the Cisco ACI solution, enabling a smooth transition from optimized NX-OS to the ACI-mode of NX-OS with a software upgrade and the addition of APIC. Using merchant silicon and custom ASICs, this portfolio delivers best of breed price performance and non-blocking port density for 1/10G to 10/40G and in the future 100G transitions in existing and next generation data centers. The Nexus 9000 portfolio includes state of the art system innovations including the industry’s first backplane-free modular switch to provide investment protection, efficient power and cooling, and a simpler design leading to two times the improvement in mean time between failures.

Note: Many testimonials are included in the news release at:

Analysis By Scott Thompson of FBR:

On Wednesday, November 6, Cisco announced its long-awaited initial products and roadmap for its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) platform. The solution is rolling out in the form of an SDN controller Application Programmable Controller Interface, or APCI) and yet another switching platform (Nexus 9000) that combine to deliver the ACI platform. We view the ACI platform, along with Cisco’s recent announcement of its NCS platform, on September 24th, as another step in the right direction and the core product battery that will drive refreshed orders in Cisco’s networking product set for the next three to five years. While the product refresh could drive orders, we expect the implications to gross margin, at least initially, could be negative. Our checks indicate the platform is getting positive feedback from service providers and large enterprises, but there are a few questions in our mind that were left unanswered:

(1) How much does the product cost?
(2) Will the product planners eventually open the northbound interface?
(3) How will the platform integrate new architectures moving forward? Most importantly, how much opportunity will ACI generate in rackscale architectures, which we believe will become a significant portion of IT spend in 2H14 and beyond?

While these questions remain, we view today’s announcement as another positive step for Cisco’s chances to maintain or grow market share in a changing industry. 

    * Full ACI rollout will take time. While our checks indicate the platform is being met with a reasonable amount of positive reviews from enterprises and service providers, the rollout time frame could be longer than many customers and investors would have hoped. Cisco continued to move slowly with respect to rolling out the ACI solution. While the Nexus 9000 switch is available today, many of the other components, including the controller, will not be available for beta test until at least January and are not  scheduled to be generally available until next summer.

    * Less talk of custom ASICs, more merchant silicon. We were surprised to hear the rhetoric around custom ASICs was
significantly toned down during the ACI announcement. The Nexus 9000 line appears to have utilized Broadcom’s Trident II ASIC, which is likely to help keep both costs and hardware differentiation down. Despite fewer references, we believe Cisco expects to continue to pursue its custom ASIC strategy over the longer term.

    * ACI offers Virtual Machine (VM) tax avoidance? Cisco seemed to respond rather directly to the threat posed by VMWare’s NSX. Cisco seems to be boasting a 75% annualized per port cost savings when compared with an NSX solution. The primary difference, according to Cisco, is a “VM tax” or the recurring license payments one might make for the NSX solution, which is avoided by deploying Cisco’s ACI architecture. While Cisco does seem to have a point, we question whether VMWare will allow the argument to stand without a retort or making an adjustment to its pricing model.

Cisco Webinar on Unified Access:

Cisco Unified Access offers a single network infrastructure that enables innovative, connected experiences. With greater business efficiency and security through context-aware intelligence, Cisco Unified Access helps with the convergence of wired and wireless infrastructure and one-network manageability.

Find out about the latest developments in Cisco access switching, an integral part of Cisco Unified Access. During our live webcast on November 13, 2013, experts will reveal how to use Cisco access switching products and technologies for business agility, high-quality user experiences, and lower total cost of ownership (TCO).