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Cisco ACI users up, TCO down

SDN customers double but cost benefits appear to plummet

While Cisco’s SDN customers are trending up, the TCO benefits of its solution are trending down. At its recent Cisco Partner Summit, Insieme SVP Soni Jiandani held up a slide that claimed over 2,655 customers for the Nexus 9000 switch and over 585 customers for the Application Centric Infrastructure APIC controller.

The slide was tweeted by CEO-in-waiting Chuck Robbins:

apic traction apr 2015 Chuck Robbins

These new figures represent growth of 56% for the Nexus 9000 and almost double the 300 APIC customers disclosed during Cisco’s second fiscal quarter, which ended in January. APIC customers now account for 22% of Nexus 9000 customers, up from just under 18% in Cisco’s fiscal Q2.

And the updated figures put Cisco past VMware in number of SDN customers, for now. Contacted this week, VMware says it is holding fast to that "more than 400" NSX customers figure previously quoted and will not update it until "major milestones" are hit.

cisco aci tco Cisco

But while Nexus 9K and ACI are growing, the total cost of ownership benefits of ACI are apparently diminishing. At ACI’s introduction in Nov. 2013, Cisco claimed a 75% TCO benefit over merchant silicon hardware and network virtualization when upgrading to a 40G infrastructure (see image left).

But at Cisco IT day in Allen, TX, last month, John Chambers said ACI provides a 40% TCO advantage over whitebox with “free” software. And last week, Cisco’s “myth debunking” series of videos on the benefits of ACI lowered TCO savings to 20% to 30%:

Cisco says different scenarios will yield different TCO benefits.

The 75% TCO savings from the Nov. 2013 slide compares the cost of virtualization plus operational expenditures for a whitebox switch running VMware NSX with the associated "VM tax." Last week's video compared standalone NX-OS and Nexus 9000 TCO to whitebox-only TCO -- VM tax and ACI not included. So it’s a lower savings because it leaves out NSX and assumes using a third-party operating system, and controllers.

"This was not an ACI comparison," says Frank D'Agostino, CTO for technical marketing in Cisco's Insieme Networks business unit, of last week's video. "Remember that we will have multiple slices at the SDN / Automation market based on our customer requirements. In addition we are going compete directly against the do-it-yourself models of white box, OS, and 3rd party controllers.  The financials will vary based on environment."

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