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Cisco ACI Adds Docker, OpFlex, Layer 4-7 Support

Docker support. OpFlex backing. A stronger focus on layer 4-7 service. These are among the upgrades Cisco is rolling out with the new software release for its Application Centric Infrastructure, or ACI.

Cisco’s bigger picture goal is to improve its Software Defined Networking (SDN) portfolio built on open APIs, open standards and a flexible ecosystem. The move could appease some Cisco critics that have accused the firm of being too proprietary in the past.

“Customers tell me that only five to 10 percent of their networks are automated today,” said Soni Jiandani, a senior vice president at Cisco. “They are eager to adopt comprehensive automation for their networks and network services through a single pane of management, while improving security for east-west traffic, multi-cloud traffic and bare metal applications in a consistent manner.”

Seeking Full Automation

Cisco aims to deliver with its new software functions, which include multivendor virtualized environments like Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware VDS, as well as microsegmentation for physical applications. The new capabilities promise to deliver automation across multiple data centers by traversing multi-site environments.

Docker container integration technology comes to the ACI through contributions to open source. That means Cisco can now offer a consistent policy model with more flexibility using ACI. Supporting automated service insertion for any third-party layer 4-7 service could also turn enterprise IT heads.

“Policy-based automation, consistent network security and central compliance support are critical for IT efficiency, business agility, and competitive advantage,” Jiandani said. “Several ACI customers have achieved full automation of the network and are focusing on automation across their layer 4 to 7 network services, security and application groups as the next step.”

Defying Critics

CliQr, DataTorrent, and Vnomic were already part of Cisco’s 43-member ACI ecosystem. The company just added Apprenda, KillerIT, One Convergence and ScienceLogic to the mix. These four new players offer Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) that help organizations to automate across their application and infrastructure teams.

On top of all this, Cisco’s ACI now supports cloud automation tools like OpenStack and VMware vRealize Automation, as well as open standards-based OpFlex support with Open vSwitch.

We caught up with Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, to get his thoughts on the beefed up ACI. He told us this upgrade expands the infrastructure’s relevancy.

“Cisco is taking a very open standards-based approach to SDN. In the past Cisco has been criticized for being closed and proprietary,” Kerravala said. “What Cisco understands is a successful SDN is really based on enabling an ecosystem of partners to work with you. That’s what they are focused on and it’s a big part of this release. My research shows Cisco has by far more SDN deployments than any other vendor out there.”

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