Cisco ACI Review

We don't need to configure any part of the VXLAN


What is our primary use case?

My primary use case is for server deployment automation.

How has it helped my organization?

There is no need to configure all the switches, you can configure them from the device controller.

In day-to-day activity, it creates an installer for a particular VLAN to be implemented. 

Also, I don't need to monitor everything, login to every switch. I can monitor them centrally.

What is most valuable?

There are many features which are useful, like the automatic completion of the VXLAN. We don't need to configure any part of the VXLAN, which is tedious to do.

What needs improvement?

They should improve the GUI, make it simpler. They also need to improve its integration with other automation tools.

In terms of additional features, I would recommend of PTP support, which they have yet to come out with.

For how long have I used the solution?

One to three years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Right now it's stable. We haven't had to create any support issues. When doing the implementation, support was quite useful where, if somebody made a wrong connection to some other part of the network, the wrong port, they were able to track it and solve it. But in day-to-day operations, we haven't had any issues.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The scalability is very good, based on the spine-leaf structure. You can increase the number of leaves and you can also scale the spines. You can deploy four spines, eight spines.

How are customer service and technical support?

There have not been that many hard, critical issues. There were some minor issues which were handled by technical support efficiently, but there have been no critical issues up until now.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We did not have a previous solution. We had a traditional network.

One of the reasons we looked at ACI was that the traditional network was going end-of-support. At that time we had to decide whether to go with the traditional approach or to go with SDN, which is the future, where we can do automation. 

ACI also has many benefits that network guys can make use of. We could not get that type of visibility: where the VMs are connected and which switches are connected. We didn't have that visibility. Now we can have that visibility into the virtual part as well. Also, if you want to trace a packet, there is a feature that helps troubleshoot.

The visibility helps us identify if the server is connected to the wrong feed or wrong LAN. We can immediately try to identify what the issue is, or if packets are being dropped.

How was the initial setup?

For new users it has particularly new concepts, so people have to digest the implementation part and the regular use, the day-to-day operations. But once you're familiar with it, once the concepts are clear, it's quite easy to go on with day-to-day operations.

Laying the fabric-building and the policy for usage, with four spines and three controllers, can be done within a day. But the mapping and other operations take about a week, to complete the entire fabric with the proper testing and implementation.

In terms of implementation strategy, we have done two deployments. In the first, we had time to study what they were using, what VLANs, what the other requirements were. Migrating from legacy to ACI takes time. The main challenge is configuring ACI applications for visibility. It takes time to learn the traffic and then map the policies to ACI.

Day-to-day for maintenance, we have one or two people who work together in shifts, they're able to manage things.

What about the implementation team?

For one of the setups we used Cisco support, which was very helpful. They have a good core team which provided us support. Cisco's team had three people on the ground. Our team consisted of two or three people for the implementation.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We evaluated VMware NSX. When we compared the technical solution of ACI and NSX, how the traffic flows from physical to virtual and virtual to physical, there were many parameters which we compared, some of which were critical.

What other advice do I have?

Know exactly what you are looking for and what workloads there are. If your company has workloads based on virtualization of VMware, you should know how many physical machines there are and how many virtual machines there are. Also, you need an idea of the kind of costs you can pay for deploying the infrastructure. Look into the support, the documentation, how it would work for troubleshooting. All those things matter. Also, look at the company's relationships with the OEMs, what kind of partnership they have, what kind of support the OEMs can provide.

We have two locations where people use Cisco ACI. One has about eight to ten people for support, and the other location has seven to eight people. All are network support staff.

Once an implementation is done, it's regular day-to-day operations. If anything new comes up, new VLANs, we'll handle it. There are things in our pipeline where we are planning to have ACI deployed in our remaining data centers.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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