Cisco extended Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), its SDN technology, into Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure public clouds as part of its new “data center anywhere” strategy.
There’s a good reason for this. It illustrates enterprises’ movement toward distributed IT environments. And vendors are following suit with products that allow companies to deploy their workloads where it makes most sense to do so.
“Customers want to be empowered in this distributed multi-cloud world to land their workloads where they fit best,” said IDC analyst Matt Eastwood. “The only way an enterprise can regain some semblance of control is to run the same stack across all of these environments. While this is precisely what VMware is doing, they are by no means alone. Cisco’s approach has merit too.”
This data center-to-cloud-to-edge story “is absolutely picking up momentum, and it should,” said Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. “The great news is that all of this distribute environment means greater reliance on the network and especially the WAN or SD-WAN.”
Data Center Anywhere
Cisco rolled out its new data center anywhere vision today at its Cisco Live event in Barcelona, Spain. Its general premise: Workloads are becoming more distributed with some applications deployed on-premises and others in the cloud and at the edge. And companies should be able to use the same networking and management tools across all of those locations.
“There is nothing centered about data center anymore,” said Roland Acra, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Data Center Business Group. Customers want to deploy applications and manage data across environments. This is why Cisco is taking an “every cloud, every data center, every branch” approach, he added. “It’s a new architectural approach, which essentially takes a data center and makes it feel like it’s available anywhere.”
With today’s announcement, Cisco essentially did three new things. First, it expanded its SDN technology –ACI – into AWS and Azure environments. The vendor already offered ACI in on-premises data centers, and virtual ACI to support bare metal clouds and remote edge locations. Today, Cisco extended the same ACI automation, management, and security capabilities to AWS and Azure, fully integrating with their infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).
Cisco plans to add additional public cloud support — like Google Cloud Platform — in the future. “We really mean any cloud, anywhere, and we’re starting with the biggest two,” said Dhritiman Dasgupta, vice president of product marketing for Cisco Data Center solutions.
HCI at the Edge
Second, it extended its hyperconverged infrastructure product, HyperFlex, into branch offices and remote edge locations. This allows companies to run analytics or other compute-intensive applications where the data is being generated.
As with Cisco’s data center HCI, the new edge HyperFlex uses Cisco Intersight, its cloud-based infrastructure management tool. “Cloud-delivered management is really nice in the data centers, but it becomes a must have if you are deploying infrastructure in a place where you have no local IT capabilities to troubleshoot,” Arca said.
The third piece of Cisco’s announcement: it added a cost optimizer and an action orchestrator to its CloudCenter management tool. This aims to help customers manage the lifecycle of applications across multiple cloud environments. Cisco now also offers CloudCenter as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product (it was formerly just on-premises software), and also offers new feature-based pricing.
Moving to Distributed IT
Cisco’s data center anywhere approach reflects the move from consolidated to distributed environments. At this point all of the major infrastructure vendors have some type of hybrid IT support that allows customers to run the same workloads on premises and in clouds. This becomes absolutely necessary as customers look to scale their cloud environments, Laliberte said.
“All the major network vendors have recognized that it is a multi-cloud world and most enterprises will operate with a hybrid model (on-premises and cloud) for some time to come,” Laliberte added. “As a result, the vendors recognize they need to remove complexity and make it easier for organizations to scale to public cloud providers with minimal training and certification. The ability to leverage the same solution, like Cisco’s ACI, in your own private cloud environment as well as across multiple public clouds will enable organizations to successfully scale their cloud environments.”
When asked how Cisco’s new strategy stacks up against VMware’s, Acra points to two pieces.
“What’s unique about what we are doing is that we’re extending the SDN and the policy and the segmentation to the workloads running natively on Azure or AWS — not on their bare-metal only,” Acra said. “[With virtual ACI] we have already done what others have done in the cloud, which is only doing bare metal — AWS but only on bare metal, not EC2 instances, for example. And No. 2, we are doing it on any cloud.”
Additionally, Cisco’s ACI still has both a hardware and software component while VMware’s NSX is software-only. “It should be noted that NSX still needs network infrastructure to run on,” Laliberte said. “So for many it may come down to who is the incumbent vendor or who is driving the decision – VMware admins or the network team.”