Cisco ACI is an enterprise-class, software-defined networking (SDN) solution that provides complete control of the data center network. Using a policy-based approach, Cisco ACI delivers security, performance, and scalability for today’s demanding applications.
Cisco ACI is part of the broader Cisco SDN portfolio, which also includes Nexus switches and Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) controllers. If you are looking for a way to improve your data center network, Cisco ACI may be the answer. In this article, you can find out more about Cisco ACI, including how it works, its benefits, and what it is used for.
What Is Cisco ACI?
Cisco ACI is a software-defined networking (SDN) technology offering from Cisco that allows for centralized application policy enforcement across a data center network. It is designed to simplify and automate the creation, management, and enforcement of network security policies.
ACI provides uniform policy definition and application across physical and virtual resources, as well as bare-metal server deployments. This can be done through an easy-to-use graphical user interface or programmatically through APIs. The latter option makes it possible to integrate ACI into your existing DevOps processes.
With Cisco ACI, you can apply consistent security policies across your data center regardless of the underlying infrastructure. The result is increased agility and reduced operational costs. In addition, ACI provides built-in micro-segmentation capabilities that can help you improve your data center security posture.
Cisco ACI is based on the concept of an application profile. An application profile defines the set of network and security policies that should be applied to a particular application or workload. Application profiles are created using the Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC).
The APIC is a centralized management system that gives you visibility into and control over the network resources in your data center. It also provides policy enforcement and orchestration capabilities. The APIC communicates with the network devices in your data center through an out-of-band management network.
Cisco ACI uses a leaf-spine architecture. The leaf nodes are Top-of-Rack (ToR) switches that connect to server endpoints. The spine nodes are core switches that connect the leaf nodes to each other.
Cisco ACI supports both physical and virtualized leaf nodes. Physical leaves can be either Cisco Nexus 9000 Series Switches or Cisco ASA 1000V Cloud Firewalls. Virtualized leaves are provided by the Cisco Avi Vantage platform.
What Is an SDN?
SDN stands for software-defined networking. It’s a network architecture that uses programmable interfaces to enable more flexible and dynamic network control.
In traditional networks, the control plane is physically separate from the data plane. This means that the traffic flow is dictated by the hardware, which can be inflexible and difficult to change. In an SDN, the control plane is implemented in software, giving it more flexibility.
This separation of duties can make it easier to manage complex networks, because you can change the configuration of the network without having to physically reconfigure the devices. It also makes it possible to dynamically adjust traffic flow according to changing needs.
SDN controllers use protocols like OpenFlow to communicate with devices in the network. Using these protocols allows SDN to centrally control the flow of traffic, making it possible to implement policies that can optimize performance or reduce costs.
SDN is still a relatively new technology, and there are a number of different approaches to implementing it. But the basic idea is to use software to make networks more flexible and easier to manage.
How Does ACI Work?
In the most basic sense, ACI (Application Centric Infrastructure) is a data center network architecture that enables applications to be deployed and managed in a more flexible and efficient manner. ACI provides a single point of control for both physical and virtual networks, allowing for greater transparency and easier management of complex application environments.
ACI is designed to increase agility and efficiency in the data center by automating many of the tasks that have traditionally been manual or error-prone. For example, ACI can automatically provision new applications on the infrastructure, identify and correct errors in application configurations, and dynamically adapt network resources to changing application needs. By simplifying these tasks, ACI can help reduce deployment times and improve overall efficiency in the data center.
In addition to increasing agility and efficiency, ACI also provides improved security and compliance capabilities. ACI includes features such as built-in firewalls and intrusion detection/prevention systems, which can help protect data center assets from malicious attacks. ACI also provides granular visibility into application traffic, allowing administrators to quickly identify and respond to potential security threats.
Overall, ACI is a data center network architecture that enables applications to be deployed and managed in a more flexible and efficient manner. ACI can help improve agility, efficiency, security, and compliance in the data center.
Cisco ACI Architecture
Cisco ACI is an application-centric infrastructure that enables you to build your data center network around the needs of your applications. ACI uses a centralized policy model to automate and simplify network configuration, deployment, and management. This architecture decouples the network control plane from the data forwarding plane, allowing for greater flexibility, scalability, and manageability.
ACI consists of three key components: the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), the leaf switches, and the spine switches. The APIC is a centralized controller that manages all aspects of the ACI fabric. The leaf switches are ToR switches that provide connectivity between servers and external networks. The spine switches are aggregate Layer 3 switches that provide high-bandwidth connectivity between leaf switches.
The APIC provides a single point of control and management for the entire ACI fabric. It uses an open, standards-based application programming interface (API) to expose the ACI policy model to external applications and orchestration tools. The APIC also provides an intuitive web-based user interface (UI) for manual configuration and monitoring of the ACI fabric.
The leaf switches are ToR switches that provide connectivity between servers and external networks. Leaf switches are fully programmable and support all Layer 2 and Layer 3 protocols. In addition, leaf switches also support quality of service (QoS), security features, and virtualization capabilities.
The spine switches are aggregate Layer 3 switches that provide high-bandwidth connectivity between leaf switches. Spine switches are also fully programmable and support all Layer 2 and Layer 3 protocols.
Why Is Cisco ACI Important? Cisco ACI Benefits
Cisco ACI is a software-defined networking (SDN) technology that enables virtualization of the network infrastructure. Cisco ACI offers a number of benefits, including improved agility, reduced complexity, and enhanced security.
- Improved agility: Cisco ACI enables rapid provisioning of new applications and services by automating the creation and enforcement of network policies. This reduces the need for manual configuration of network devices and speeds up the process of adding new services and applications.
- Reduced complexity: Cisco ACI simplifies network management by consolidating multiple disparate networks into a single logical network. This reduces the number of devices that need to be managed and monitored, and makes it easier to troubleshoot problems. In addition, Cisco ACI provides a central point of control for managing the network, which reduces the need for costly and error-prone manual configuration.
- Enhanced security: Cisco ACI includes built-in security features that help protect the network from attack. These features include role-based access control, which limits users to only those resources they are authorized to access, and intrusion detection and prevention, which can detect and block malicious traffic. In addition, Cisco ACI uses encryption to protect data in transit, ensuring that only authorized users can view or modify it.
- Increased efficiency: Cisco ACI automates many common network management tasks, such as provisioning new devices, configuring port settings, and applying security policies. This reduces the need for manual intervention, saving time and money. In addition, Cisco ACI optimizes network utilization by automatically distributing traffic across multiple paths, ensuring that resources are used efficiently.
- Greater scalability: Cisco ACI scales linearly, meaning that it can support a large number of devices and users without sacrificing performance. This makes it ideal for enterprise-wide deployments.
Cisco ACI provides numerous benefits that can help organizations improve their agility, reduce complexity, and enhance security. When considering an SDN solution, Cisco ACI should be high on the list of choices.
What Is Cisco ACI Used For?
Cisco ACI enables network administrators to centrally manage and orchestrate network resources through a graphical user interface (GUI). Cisco ACI can be used for a variety of purposes, including the following:
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): Cisco ACI can be used to provision and manage virtual machines (VMs), storage, and networking resources in an IaaS environment. This allows organizations to quickly provision and scale their IT infrastructure without having to purchase or deploy physical hardware.
- Software-defined networking (SDN): Cisco ACI can be used to centrally manage and orchestrate network resources via a graphical user interface (GUI). This allows network administrators to easily provision and configure networking services, such as load balancing and traffic shaping.
- Network security: Cisco ACI provides several features that can improve the security of your network, including role-based access control, application visibility and control, and encrypted data communications.
- Cloud integration: Cisco ACI includes native support for popular cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Organizations can then easily integrate their on-premises infrastructure with public cloud services.
How Cisco ACI Integrates With Other Products
Cisco ACI integrates with other products using a variety of methods to provide customers with the ability to create a best-of-breed solution.
- The first method is through open APIs. Open APIs allow Cisco ACI to work with a wide range of software and hardware solutions from multiple vendors. This method gives customers the flexibility to choose the products that best meet their needs while still taking advantage of Cisco ACI’s industry-leading features and performance.
- The second method is through jointly certified solutions. These are solutions that have been tested and certified by both Cisco and the partner company to work together seamlessly. This method gives customers peace of mind knowing that the products they are using have been designed to work together optimally.
- The third method is through service chaining. Service chaining allows Cisco ACI to connect multiple services together in a predefined order. It thus becomes easy to create complex solutions that would otherwise be difficult to implement.
Cisco ACI provides customers with the ability to create a best-of-breed solution by integrating with other products using open APIs, jointly certified solutions, and service chaining. This advantage gives customers the flexibility to choose the products that best meet their needs while still taking advantage of Cisco ACI’s industry-leading features and performance.
With the release of Cisco ACI, the company is looking to solidify its position as a market leader in data center networking. While SDN has been around for a few years now, ACI represents a more holistic and comprehensive approach to SDN that takes into account all aspects of networking. So, ACI is an important tool for companies looking to move to the cloud or build out their data center infrastructure. If you’re curious about how Cisco ACI can benefit your business, reach out and we’ll be happy to discuss it with you.
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