Cisco offers an ACI migration path

Company looking to include Nexus 2000, 3000, 5000, 6000 and 7000 environments in the fabric future


Cisco this week extended its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) programmable networking product line with new switches, integration with UCS Director, and migration tools for existing Nexus infrastructure.

Cisco says over 70 customers and partners have been trialing ACI, and that there are over 1,000 customers on the sales pipeline for the Nexus 9000 and ACI. Bringing its installed base of Nexus 2000, 3000, 5000, 6000 and 7000 switch and ASR 9000 router customers over to the Nexus 9000 will be key to expanding that pipeline.

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To do that, Cisco unveiled the Cisco Application-centric Virtual Switch (AVS), a hypervisor-resident Nexus 1000V virtual switch that extends the ACI Application Policy Model to physical and virtual workloads supported by existing Nexus infrastructure. As promised, AVS supports Cisco's new OpFlex policy protocol to communicate with an ACI controller -- called APIC -- and accept application service policy instructions from it.

For solely bare metal environments, the APIC and 9000 switches can send policies to the existing N2K-N7K infrastructure, Cisco says. For any virtual servers in the data center, AVS is required in addition to APIC and the 9000 series switches.

Right now, the Nexus 2K-7K switches get their policies through their connection the 9000 switches. They do not currently support OpFlex even though Cisco said during the OpFlex launch that the protocol is also planned for the Nexus 7000 and ASR 9000 router. Cisco this week did not disclose a timeframe for OpFlex on those platforms.

Cisco says AVS supports all leading hypervisors with a consistent operational model across implementations in heterogeneous data centers. For those looking to deploy network virtualization or programmability from a hypervisor, it looks like AVS might be the head-to-head alternative to VMware's NSX.

The Nexus 7000 switches and ASR 9000 router can also be integrated into the ACI fabric as a data center interconnect gateway/router. LISP and OTV features on the Nexus 7000 can help a central APIC controller establish consistent policy management for physical and virtual workloads, Cisco says.

Cisco also says that F5 and Citrix Layer 4-7 services can be deployed in either existing Nexus fabrics or the ACI mode without a hardware upgrade.

Cisco's IT orchestration tool, UCS Director, now also supports ACI and Nexus 9000 switches via Release 5.0. This means that physical and virtual resources can be provisioned consistently across all supported infrastructure through a single management point.

New Nexus 9000 switches include the Nexus 9336PQ fixed switch and the Nexus 9396TX, an enterprise-class top-of-rack switch. The 1.44Tbps Nexus 9336PQ offers a 2RU form-factor for small to medium ACI spine deployments of 36 40G QSFP+ ports.

The Nexus 9396TX has 48 10GBase-T ports that can operate at 100 Mbps, 1 Gbps, and 10 Gbps speeds, and 12 QSFP+ uplinks. All the ports are line rate, Cisco says, delivering 1.92 Tbps of throughput in a 2RU form factor. It is designed for top-of-rack access deployments in 3-tier network designs, or as a leaf node in ACI.

Cisco also rolled out a new line card for modular ACI spines. The N9K-X9736PQ is a non-blocking line-card for the Nexus 9500 switch that features 36 40G QSFP+ ports for large-scale spine-leaf deployments, Cisco says.

Cisco also extended its Nexus 6000 40G switch line with the 6004X, a new eight slot chassis that adds VXLAN capabilities. It joins the existing non-VXLAN eight slot Nexus 6004 and 6004EF chassis.

Even though the 6004 and 6004EF do not support VXLAN, Cisco says it is adding VXLAN support across the Nexus line for users deploying virtualized cloud data centers that scale beyond 4,096 VLANs.

Cisco also announced that integrated infrastructure platforms from storage partners NetApp and VCE now support the Nexus 9000 and ACI as the switching component of those platforms. NetApp's FlexPod is a reference architecture co-designed with Cisco, while VCE's Vblock is a pre-integrated server, storage, switching and virtualization system from the Cisco/EMC joint venture.

Partner-turned-rival VMware, which also has a stake in VCE, says its NSX network virtualization platform runs pretty well on Vblocks too. But good luck getting VCE to support NSX on a Vblock. A company statement:

VCE Vblock Systems are based on Cisco compute and network technologies, EMC storage and data protection, and VMware server virtualization and virtualization management. Vblock Systems are specifically engineered with Cisco networking, and as such VCE will integrate, recommend, ship and support Cisco ACI on Vblock Systems. For customers who choose to deploy NSX on a Vblock System, VCE will provide support up to and including the VMware hypervisor and virtualization management technologies. While VCE will not directly support or service NSX deployments, we will manage such requests via our VMware Cooperative Support Agreement.

Cisco also announced this week that Nutanix and Radware are now ACI ecosystem partners, and that it is working with ACI partner Embrane to provide lifecycle management for customers deploying virtualized L4-7 services with ACI, including licensing, provisioning, decommissioning, upgrades and overall capacity management.

Cisco led a $14 million C series funding round for Embrane in March.

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