VMware, Cisco SDNs Bring Home the Bacon

Both play key roles in food processor SugarCreek's data centers

sdn control

In the scramble for SDN supremacy, Cisco and VMware usually bark about users who opt for one of their solutions over the other.

In all the noise, it’s rare to hear from one that plans to implement both.

But that’s what SugarCreek, a $650 million, privately-held food processing and packing company based in Washington Court House, OH, is doing in its software-defined data centers (SDDC). VMware’s NSX network virtualization software will be used to secure and automate the VMware-virtualized server environment, while Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) will be deployed to manage the physical network infrastructure.

“There’s a tremendous amount of noise in the industry on this subject, primarily viewing these solutions as ‘either/or,’ with a lot of comparisons and arguments about which methodology is best,” says Edward Rodden, SugarCreek CIO. “In the end, we chose to view them as complementary technologies and that by putting them both in place it would best position us to take advantage of innovations from either as time proceeds. ACI seemed the best choice up through the physical layer as we are primarily Cisco on hardware, VMWare, for now, within the data center as an extension of our already virtualized infrastructure.”

+MORE ON NETWORK WORLD: SDN showdown: Examining the differences between VMware’s NSX and Cisco’s ACI+

The ability to use Palo Alto firewalls tightly integrated to the VMware SDDC was also a factor in these choices, Rodden says. Cisco ASA firewalls are protecting the network perimeter.

SugarCreek, renowned for its bacon products, will implement NSX and ACI in the March/April timeframe in two data centers for microsegmentation and automation. The company plans to segment its different applications into groups, or pods. A pod will include multiple web servers, presentation servers and at least one database server.

Each pod will utilize NSX to load balance the web servers and presentation servers. The Palo Alto firewalls will be used to secure traffic within the VMware hosts. SugarCreek plans to create scripts to automate the creation of new application pods and to burst pods to the cloud.

ACI will be used at the hardware layer to manage the leaf and spine architecture of Cisco Nexus 9000 switches. When SugarCreek needs to expand its datacenter, ACI will automate the addition and configuration of leaf switches.

ACI will not be used nearly to its full application policy potential, SugarCreek admits, due in part to VMware’s incumbency as the company’s server virtualization vendor. ACI is designed to allow the Cisco network to adapt its configuration based on the access, security and service level policies of the particular application, or applications, be they on physical or virtual hosts, including bare metal servers.

“We are a VMware shop,” Rodden says. “We won’t be running any bare metal. Who better to understand VMware traffic than VMware?”

Rodden says ACI would play a larger role if SugarCreek implements bare metal servers at some juncture.

“NSX doesn’t reach outside of VMware,” he says. “If it’s not a virtual server, NSX wouldn’t know how to be able to (support it).”

But for now, ACI is attractive not only because of the Cisco infrastructure SugarCreek has, but because it came pretty cheap when bundled with the company’s Nexus 9000 switch purchase.

“It wasn’t free, but it was pretty close,” Rodden says. “But if we were to use it to its full extent, obviously the price tag would go up.”

Still, as the ACI/NSX environment operates in production mode for some time and as NSX and ACI mature and evolve, SugarCreek may determine which SDN technology goes forward from there.

“Initially, ACI and NSX will not be competing in our environment,” says IT Director Todd Pugh. “ACI will stop at the switches and NSX will be controlling within the VMWare hosts. Longer term will depend on the advances from the competing technologies.

“We also wanted to hedge our bets with the SDN technology because of it being so new,” Pugh adds. “We are expecting lots of advances in the next year or two and we want to be positioned to take advantage of advances by either company.”

“It’s still not crystal clear to us where they are both going to go next,” says Rodden.

The SDN project is part of a data center refresh for SugarCreek to inject more security and automation into its operations. With two new plants brought on line in the last nine months -- for a total of six in three states – SugarCreek is on a growth trajectory that is expected to make it a $1 billion company within the next few years, Rodden says.

The data center refresh also dovetails with an Internet of Things (IoT) implementation at the food processor. In the company’s Indiana facility opened in July, 2015, is an IoT-enabled network project begun 18 months ago with Cisco Advanced Services to support a new SugarCreek labor model, a High Performance Work Team structure. This uses internally-developed data acquisition systems on the production floor with bar codes and RFID for both inventory and to process data from a variety of network sensors and devices.

SugarCreek is now moving into the second phase of the project, which will implement real-time location services and video analytics in processing and data visualization. And all of the data collected in the IoT infrastructure is be stored in the SDDC pods managed by NSX and connected via Nexus 9000/ACI.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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