Cisco ACI Review

Enables backing up and restoring of configurations, but Layer 3 Out policy is complex

What is our primary use case?

We used it as a data center switch. The company - our client - that uses it uses Cisco HyperFlex and FlexPod both connected to Cisco ACI.

How has it helped my organization?

It has made it simpler and easier for non-Cisco personnel to come in and configure stuff because it is easier to understand, compared to when you configure Nexus using the CLI. Configuring the ACI using the graphical interface is easier. That's one advantage. New administrators can easily jump in and manage the system.

It saves time.

What is most valuable?

It adds a layer of complication but one area where it has an advantage, a benefit, is that you're able to reuse a specific integration. If you add another server, you can use a specific integration and assign it to another port.

You can back up the configuration, restore a configuration. It's easier compared to the traditional way of keeping a text file of the configuration. With ACI the management itself has been improved since you can manage it using the graphical user interface. 

There a lot of integrations that can be done. VMware can be integrated with ACI, that's another advantage, although we did not use it as much because the client also has its own virtualization software.

What needs improvement?

One of the things that makes it a lot more complicated is the way contracts are handled in ACI. Contracts are like their own access lists. They can improve the setting up of contracts between devices a lot. It can be simplified. Because ACI re-invented something that's been working for so long - you can now have overlapping subnet - it gets really confusing when they say that you can use the same subnet for different VLANs.

They should make a standard list of best practices and that makes it easy for the people who are going to use it. That part alone, when they tried to remove subnet and VLANs, that's an integral part of networking which people have been used to for so long. They tried to remove it. I don't know why, but when they did that, it muddled up the concepts of networking, and people need time to adjust. That's why they have to put out a best-practice's guide, to make it easier for traditional-method people to adapt to ACI. 

Another area for improvement is establishing a Layer 3 Out policy. Accessing the internet is a bit complicated where, before, using Cisco devices, it was just one line of code. With ACI, it took us a few days, almost a week, to just figure it out using the GUI.

For how long have I used the solution?

One to three years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Stability-wise, we really have not had any issues with it. It's pretty stable. That's a good thing.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It's scalable because of the spine-and-leaf infrastructure. You can add spine and leaf. I haven't scaled it that much. We've only used three or four leaves into the ACI infrastructure. But I believe the scalability is good.

How are customer service and technical support?

Cisco's technical support seems pretty good. No complaints about the response time. When we were into the implementation phase, we had two cases and they were able to respond quickly and to resolve the cases quickly.

How was the initial setup?

The setup was relatively complex. It was really not straightforward at all.

The strategy was to just browse through Cisco's web site to get the setup guide. We used the initial configuration guide and we browsed through a lot of videos from people who had done it before us.

The deployment took a few days more a month. The biggest complication was establishing the routing system, how to do routing.

There were three of us from our company involved in the deployment, but the project also involved Cisco Hyperflex and Cisco FlexPod.

What was our ROI?

I'm not really so sure of how fast our client has seen return on investment. But maybe in the past three years they have seen it.

I cannot comment on how much ROI they've had. But they've established some BPO centers, call centers, using the infrastructure. I don't know how much success they've had.

What other advice do I have?

If you can afford it, it's a very good solution. It's a high-end solution to put a data center on. Also, you need the right people to use it. It would be better if you had some programmers who know Python and not only people who are network engineers. If you can afford it, it is going to be the next thing, in a few years' time. It's a good solution if you have the right people and budget.

We have an ongoing interaction with the client for whom we implemented ACI. We implemented it two years ago and since then we have been constantly supporting the client with their ACI infrastructure. The people who use it are the ones accessing their data center. There are around 200 to 300 people, across the entire organization.

Two people maintain it.

In the past few years there hasn't been much increase in usage. The client has not told us of any plans for expanding their ACI infrastructure.

I would rate ACI at seven out of ten. It adds a layer of complexity that you can really do without. I can't give it a ten when the traditional way of doing things still gets the job done, especially for people with experience with Cisco. It's much easier to configure stuff the traditional way using the CLI. For me, there's really not much of an advantage. The advantage is for people who are new to Cisco and the CLI environment. Then, going into ACI and having to configure it using the GUI is better. For me, it doesn't really give me that much of a benefit.

**Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner.
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