The new stuff is all over the map, but it includes some interesting additions in the area of programmability. DevOps has been a growing theme for equipment vendors, especially Cisco, which created its DevNet program to court developers and convince certified engineers to learn to code.
So, Cisco is trying to highlight the things ACI can offer developers. For example, Intuit, a customer announced this week, used APIs to build its own ACI dashboard, says Thomas Scheibe, a Cisco senior director of product management.
And ACI now has a VMware vCenter plug-in that was written by one European intern. “This is not a joke. We got an intern and looked for an interesting project,” Scheibe says.
While ACI is designed to use policy — also called intent — as the basis for software-defined networking (SDN), it can also be run in “standalone” mode, Cisco’s term for using ACI’s Nexus 9000 switches as normal switches. That’s where the DevOps enhancements are coming in.
Three Types of ACI
First, full-blown ACI, driven by the application policy infrastructure controller (APIC), remains Cisco’s turnkey SDN option — meaning it can be sold to the customer as one big “SDN” package.
Second comes the standalone option, which uses conventional switching and routing — a programmable fabric, as the company puts it.
This is the standalone ACI option, although it started becoming more of a “programmable fabric” in February when Cisco added a BGP EVPN control plane to the Nexus 9000 — a feature that can address the scaling requirements of large data centers. Today’s announcement has that capability being extended to the Nexus 5600 and 7000 models, which means the programmable fabric can reach further to the edges of a data center network.
In the second half of the year, Cisco also plans to add the virtual topology system (VTS), a new provisioning and management system for the programmable fabric, to Nexus switches.
The third option, which launched today, lets customers program the Nexus switches outright. Named the programmable network, this option is for the hardcore coders in Cisco’s audience. What it really means is that Cisco has added common Linux tools, such as Puppet and Chef, as containers on a Nexus switch.
This very DIY approach will appeal to a minority of customers, “but we will have it for the very vocal customers who want it,” Scheibe said.
This programmable-network option is scheduled to be available on Nexus 9000 and 3000 models sometime in the third quarter. Cisco plans to extend it to other Nexus lines but isn’t revealing a timetable yet.
But Wait, There’s More
Here’s what else got announced around ACI today.
A new version of ACI software, which is coming out “within the next two weeks,” Scheibe says. It’s going to include support for System Center, the Microsoft equivalent of VMware’s vCenter (which has already been integrated with ACI).
The stretched fabric. Cisco is adding the ability for ACI to span multiple data centers, for use cases such as disaster recovery. Obviously, hardware is capable of reaching across the WAN, but Cisco also tinkered with APIC, making sure latency didn’t upset the protocols involved and also making sure the database that configures and manages the network could remain consistent on both ends of the connection.
Cisco has not actually encountered problems with any of that, meaning you could have run the stretched fabric at any time. The announcement is Cisco’s way of certifying that the capability has been tested for a 150 km span. It’s a conservative mark; Cisco has tested much farther distances, Scheibe says.
Policy and OpenStack. ACI can now support OpenStack‘s Group-Based Policy (GBP) effort. That’s the result of OpenStack Neutron adding GBP support, but it’s an important step for ACI because of the architecture’s roots in policy-driven networking. Operators can now use GBP as a way of, say, telling ACI to set up VXLAN tunnels.
New hardware. The Nexus 3000 is the line that doesn’t use Cisco’s ASICs; rather, it’s based on Broadcom switch chips. It could become Cisco’s vehicle for white box networking, as analyst Scott Raynovich has reported on his Rayno Report blog.
Today, Cisco is announcing two new top-of-rack switches: the Nexus 3232C and 3264Q. They’re simply new models based on Broadcom’s upcoming Tomahawk chip. Cisco expects to ship them in the third quarter, but the exact schedule will depend on chip availability, Scheibe says; Tomahawk isn’t yet shipping in production.
As for whether the Nexus 3000s could become branded white boxes for Cisco, it’s “a discussion we have with our customers, and we’ll just leave it at that,” Scheibe says.