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Cisco Integrates Virtual, Physical Networks

Mitch Wagner

Cisco has unveiled tools for integrating its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) virtual networks with physical networks.

The company also said ACI isn't an attempt to crush VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW). Really. (See For Cisco, Is 'SDN' Code for 'Crush VMware?')

The new virtual-physical management software is designed to help customers make the transition to virtual networks while protecting their existing networks. "They've got this significant investment. At the same time, they see the compelling vision we laid out for ACI," says Craig Huitema, director of marketing for data center networking at Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). "They want to interoperate between the two."

Integrating ACI with the physical network provides consistency between the physical and virtual, Huitema says. It lowers cost and promotes flexibility. With consistent metrics, network managers get visibility into resource consumption. "By understanding the health of the underlying infrastructure, you can put the application elements where they are best suited," on physical or virtual networks, says Huitema.

Also, integrating physical and virtual networks makes it easier to apply policies consistency across the networks, he adds.

"Maybe you've got a database server sitting on bare metal, and a web server that's virtualized. It shouldn't really matter in terms of security policies... or if it moves from one hypervisor to another," Huitema says. If a workload moves from one server to another, security policies should go with it, and follow the workload when the application is decommissioned.

Cisco is integrating its Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) with Version 5 of its UCS Director, which will enable UCS Director to manage virtual and physical networks. Carriers and enterprises will be able to deploy ACI in existing data centers running Nexus 2000, 3000, 5000, 6000, and 7000 network switches, and ASR 9000 routers.

The announcement comes just ahead of the company's Cisco Live user conference in San Francisco.

Bragging about momentum
Cisco says ACI is getting significant momentum. ACI runs on Cisco's Nexus 9000, which has 1,000 customers either running or in the pipeline. These include communications service providers and enterprises.

Most of those customers aren't running ACI today; some 80% are using the server in its traditional mode, running NX-OS. "But they're all looking to go to ACI if they haven't already implemented it," claims Frank D'Agostino, Cisco senior director in tactical marketing and solutions engineering.

To what extent is ACI a maneuver for crushing VMware? That's how tech journalist Julie Bort characterized John Chambers's comments about SDN during Wednesday's earnings conference call for Cisco. (See Cisco Earnings Suffer From Carrier Weakness.)

D'Agostino says ACI isn't about crushing VMware. Rather, it's about giving customers choice of the operations model they want. "Customers want VMware for a lot of reasons and Cisco for a lot of reasons." According to D'Agostino, VMWare's SDN strategy relies on LAN emulation, which is impractical, and promotes vendor lock-in, while Cisco's approach lets network managers use multiple vendors' technologies, including VMware NSX.

[In other words: "We're not trying to crush VMware. We love VMware. They're so adorable, and they try so hard and they mean well. Bless their hearts. But we're better."]

Finally, Cisco today announced three new switches in the Nexus line: The 9336PQ is a small spine switch, with 36 40G ports in a 2RU chassis. Next is the 9396TX, a top-of-rack switch with 48 ports of 10GBaseT for server connectivity: It's a version of an existing fiber switch, with the new model supporting copper. The final product is the N9K-X9736PQ card for the 9500 modular switch, the equivalent of the 9336PQ.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to wagner@lightreading.com.

Want to learn more about SDN and the transport network? Check out the agenda for Light Reading's Big Telecom Event (BTE), which will take place on June 17 and 18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. The event combines the educational power of interactive conference sessions devised and hosted by Heavy Reading's experienced industry analysts with multi-vendor interoperability and proof-of-concept networking and application showcases. For more on the event, the topics, and the stellar service provider speaker lineup, see Telecommunication Luminaries to Discuss the Hottest Industry Trends at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event in June.

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User Rank: Light Sabre
5/20/2014 | 1:28:42 PM
Cisco Integerates Virtual, Physical Networks
@Mitch, Interesting!  I think IBM and HP are a bigger threat!  They are each moving forward in forming more ecosystems that will pose a challenge to Cisco.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
5/20/2014 | 12:03:38 PM
Re: Cisco Integrates Virtual, Physical Networks
Here at CiscoLive, enemies #1 & #2 seem to be IBM and HP rather than VMware.
sam masud
sam masud,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/16/2014 | 4:13:26 PM
Disclosure, disclosure

I am sure Cisco is head-over-heels in love with VMware, but have they named names of any ACI customers? Or maybe they did, but I missed it--so much going on, phew...

User Rank: Light Sabre
5/16/2014 | 3:56:04 PM
Cisco Integrates Virtual, Physical Networks
Mitch, this sounds like a very smart strategy that positions Cisco very well.  I believe that the companies that establish the platforms, and then provide a variety of network connection capabilities, as they are doing, will become the preferred networks.  It makes sense to the customer and makes their systems more seamless.

But I do believe that their condescension with VMWare will not mask their competitive drive to take business away (as opposed to crushing them), but with the same affect.

Sounds like Cisco is on a winning proposition.
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