Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to be invited to an ACI Test Drive run by Firefly on behalf of Cisco. Recently I attended the Cisco Roadshow in Melbourne and was really interested in the speech by Dave Robbins around ACI. I’ve read quite a bit about ACI recently but wasn’t able to really picture in my head what is is, how it works and what benefits if any it can provide for me. Cisco have been really pushing ACI hard on the various media streams lately. There’s has also been quite a bit of discussion around the competition between Cisco with it’s ACI fabric and VMware’s NSX network virtualisation software. I’ve heard about NSX but haven’t had a chance as yet to play about with it. When the opportunity arose to join a test drive workshop on ACI it was too good to miss so I jumped at the chance. My background is not in networking but in virtualisation, compute and storage so I thought it would be a good opportunity to brush up on my networking skills at the same time. It’s definitely my weakest area so I’ve made a commitment to myself to work on my networking knowledge and understanding as much as I can.
What is ACI?
ACI is the new vision for Cisco to manage their data center networks into the future. ACI is an application centric, software/policy driven, leaf-spine architecture that abstracts the logical definition of the physical hardware to provide re-usable and extensible policies for quick deployment of network infrastructure. ACI extends the principles of the Cisco UCS service profiles to the entire network fabric. The Nexus 9000 series released by Cisco earlier this year is at the core of the new ACI platform. There are a number of 9000 series switches in the family which I’ll go into more detail soon, but one item of note in all of the Nexus 9000 switches is that they can be run in standalone mode with NX-OS installed or in ACI mode (with two exceptions) which involves having the ACI ASIC installed in the switch. The line speed of the standalone version is phenomenal and can be used by developers to use their own custom code. This opens up the range to a great number of possibilities and puts it into direct competition with Arista who already have this capability. The Nexus 9000 comes with a merchant Broadcom chip for standalone mode and combines the ACI chip for ACI fabric related operations.