Cisco announces that it has expanded its ACI Strategy to include the Campus and WAN in the scope of the product as well hybrid cloud functionality. Some thoughts on what this means for network architects and engineers:
My View – Cisco wants to maintain control and ownership of customer budgets on networking by having a SDN controller that can manage everything. Cisco has significant market share because it has met customers needs and earned it current trusted position. For most customers their WiFI, WAN, VPN, Data Centre, Campus and Site networks are Cisco-only. Even many software platforms such as Cisco Prime NCS, Identity Services Engine and Unified Access means that Cisco has significant software control of many networks. It’s not a big stretch to see that many customers will migrate to ACI APIC because the deliverable is an extension of what they already have.
SDN technology like controllers and APIs mean that this vision of operational control is possible and, perhaps practical. If engineers can stop thinking about CLIs, SNMP and NetFlow as the only options for network management and begin to understand the value of an API, we will see traction in the market. As the press release notes:
The Cisco APIC Enterprise Module provides the unique ability to see the entire network as a single entity, instead of individual network elements. The result is reduced network complexity, accelerated application rollout across wired and wireless infrastructure, and more efficient network management and troubleshooting.
Don’t mistake anything, this is going to be a tough sell to customers.
Until we have a real product we won’t know how good the deliverable is.
The scope Cisco ACI starts in the data centre, extends to embrace everything. - It’s always been clear that Cisco intends to extend the ACI product to control all the network elements, signs go all the way back to original onePK announcements. This includes hardware elements such as UCS servers, ASR routers and non-data centre technology such as VPN configuration, firewalls.
ACI for Campus, Wireless and WAN – I kind of figured that Campus, Wireless and WAN would take a couple of years to emerge but here is the announcement that doubles down on ACI.
What are we looking for ? - I will be looking to see if customers will commit to a Cisco APIC controller to manage and operate their entire network infrastructure.
Perhaps a reaction to JP Morgan Downgrade - One small thing, it’s just possible that Cisco rushed this announcement out in reaction to the downgrade announced by JPMorgan yesterday predicting Cisco share price to fall from $21 to $17 as revenue falls due to whitebox. Cisco might want everyone to know that ACI is a “big picture” and more than just locking in customers and revenue streams from their hardware sales. ACI does add value to hardware and has the potential to replace lost hardware and maintenance revenue through software licensing. Software has much better profit margins that hardware.
That seems risky to have a single end to end manager – networking is has always used loosely coupled, autonomous systems that have low/zero abstraction of physical/logical components . SDN means that you will transition to networking that is tightly coupled, controlled feedback loops, low autonomy and almost complete abstraction between the logico-physical architecture.
All SDN solutions involve radical abstraction. Cisco’s strategy is proportionate to its market dominance and corporate resources. It can extend it resources into areas that startups and smaller vendors simply cannot. Equally, Cisco is not a coherent organisation but many small divisions that have competing goals. Like any big company, the future of a single product remains uncertain.
The Cisco APIC Enterprise Module is constructed of three elements: a consolidated network information database, policy infrastructure and automation. Combined, that can substantially increase network automation and agility, lowering the time that IT spends on operational activities by up to 36 percent.
Cisco APIC still isn’t shipping – Cisco likes to make announcements early. Possibly because it is hard to keep a secret, possibly because asking customers how valuable it is and how much they will pay but mostly because Cisco finds it hard to judge what customers want so they get validation by announcing ahead of the product. Who knows how long before this arrives in a practical form but I would guesstimate at a year or so.
No Documentation – There is no documentation on APIC on Cisco’s website. I can’t evaluate the product in any serious way. Therefore, any claims made here must be classed as “marketing”.
Feeding Strategies – this long lead time feed into customer strategies. Three to five-year strategies take three to five years to change.
Startup Prevention – one interesting side effect is that Cisco announcement will chase a significant amount of VC money away. No one wants to sit next to the fat lady on the bus when there isn’t enough room.
Selling the Value Add – All ACI marketing highlights the value of QoS. You can interpret this as value added feature since Cisco has a good end-to-end story, or you can interpret this as FUD. People are on both sides
For compliance management across branches and headquarters, Cisco APIC also provides network-wide Quality of Service (QoS), and accelerates Intelligent WAN (IWAN) deployments. It can also be used with third-party solutions to provide an end-to-end WAN orchestration and management.
The Quality of Service is oversold and very few people need it. Every wants certainty but is the price of implementing QoS worth it ? I wonder if this debate will play out in the years ahead as bandwidth becomes cheaper and reduces the need for QoS overall.
Here is the link to Cisco announcement: