The official date: July 31.
That’s when Cisco‘s Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI) starts to ship in full form, with the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) finally going to ship. The company is announcing that schedule today along with a group of Nexus switches and cards that are ACI-ready and stacked with Broadcom Trident II chips.
APIC and various Nexus switches have been orderable since July 1, and many of the Nexuses have been shipping for some time.
Despite being a software product, the APIC is first being shipped as an appliance. In other words, the APIC software comes pre-installed on a Cisco x86 server. That’s an attempt to make APIC, a technology quite different from Cisco’s installed base, easier to swallow. Among other things, the appliance model ensures that the APIC is presented on a correctly configured server.
“If you go through the configuration of the server, you need to pick the right NIC. You need to pick the right number of SSDs [solid-state drives],” says Thomas Scheibe, a Cisco director of product management. “It’s not because we need more UCS sales. It’s to make it simpler for customers as an out-of-the-box experience.”
Cisco hasn’t set a date for making APIC available in pure software form, Scheibe adds.
ACI’s price will depend solely on the number of leaf switches purchased; each one will be priced to include a perpetual ACI license. The idea here was to make ACI’s price predictable as opposed to the “per-VM model, which is out there,” Scheibe says — a dig at one of VMware‘s NSX pricing options. (NSX customers are more likely to go for the perpetual license priced at $5,996 per CPU.)
This also creates a pay-as-you-go model for the technology; as the network expands with more leaf switches, you pay more.
ACI leaf switches cost as little as $3,000 (a Nexus 2000 with 48 10-Gbit/s ports) and as much as $15,000 (a fixed-function Nexus 9000 with 96 10-Gbit/s ports). The APIC appliance has a base price of $40,293 or $58,017 (the configurations differ in their levels of memory and CPU) for a controller cluster meant to oversee 1,000 edge ports.
Cisco ACI in Small Doses
Cisco is also offering prepackaged ACI bundles for $250,000 to $350,000. They include two or four leaf switches, two spine switches, and a cluster of at least three APICs and are meant to connect to existing, non-ACI deployments of Nexus switches.
Taking up about one-fourth of a rack, a bundle could be used as a starter kit for introducing a policy-based architecture into the network. ACI differs strongly from conventional networking, and from most SDN models, in its use of a declarative model, where the controller tells groups of endpoints what to do without specifying how to do it. Certain segments of traffic could be forwarded to the ACI bundle to get particular policies applied, just as certain traffic in a normal network can be redirected through a firewall.
It might not be the most ideal way to deploy ACI or to apply a declarative model, Scheibe admits, but the idea is to make it easy to try. Few operators are likely to flip abruptly to the declarative model. Cisco wants to ease them into it, in a way that lets policy-based networking take hold piece by piece.
Alternatively, an operator could install APICs somewhere in the network and then run a Nexus 9300 or Application Virtual Switch (AVS, the descendent of the Nexus 1000v virtual switch) in some far-flung arm of the network. Again, that switch becomes a sliver of ACI in a larger network, and some traffic can be directed through it to be handled in a policy-based manner.
Broadcom on Board
When it comes to the Nexus switches and line cards related to ACI, 10- and 40-Gbit/s gear is available now, with some 100-Gbit/s cards due to start shipping in the fourth quarter of this year.
The list includes a lot of line cards for the Nexus 9500 chassis, all of them using Broadcom Trident II switch chips. The X9500 family of cards also includes ASICs for running ACI. For standalone NX-OS deployments — those without ACI powers — Cisco is shipping the X9400 and X9600. TheX9400 uses two Trident IIs in oversubscribed mode, while the X9600s use three for better performance.
The Trident II is also found on the Nexus 9300, which is a fixed-format top-of-rack switch, and the Nexus 3100, which is the same box but without the ACI ASIC.
To use Broadcom switch chips so openly is different for Cisco. In announcing ACI last year, the company did say it would use some merchant chips, only for basic functions. But the company still trumpets the benefits of ASICs as a key advantage over the competitors that use Broadcom.
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