Cisco ACI Review

Has improved the static configuration of our data center switching environment, but it's hard to manage 

What is our primary use case?

The primary use case for Cisco ACI is for managing our data center and network switches. We will use it for the whole data center environment eventually.

How has it helped my organization?

We are still growing it in our main data center. We haven't even expanded it to our recovery data center yet. As far as managing a static environment, so far, it's been great. When it comes to adding in new changes and new things, that's where we're going to have some challenges. Cisco ACI is difficult both technically to build it out and then operationally to manage.

It's improved the static configuration of our data center switching environment. But it's added some challenges to our ability to operationalize it and make it easier for people to manage. 

What is most valuable?

The good side of it is being able to control your network switching and routing in the data center from a single control point.

What needs improvement?

I don't have any new features that I need in Cisco ACI yet because we're still learning and making it work in our environment today. I don't have anything new. 

The one big challenge with it is Cisco going from a perpetual license model to a licensing model that is renewed every year. You pay a large fee to use stuff like this. That to me is one of our challenges.

Making training more available for all of our employees and not even at a cost would help. If you want this to be deployed to all the data centers everywhere it's got to be something that everyone can sit down and get training on. 

If you're going to try and operationalize it amongst existing staff members and even up-coming ones, it's not a simple thing to sit down and learn. 

I've been doing this for thirty-five years now. It's one of the most difficult things I've had to sit down and learn myself.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

With the stability so far we've had very few issues with Cisco ACI. A couple of routing problems that were glitches within ACI. Other than that, the environment is stable and we like it.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability is great in a Cisco ACI environment. But when you're migrating from an old data center into ACI, there are some challenges. 

In all the people that manage it, most are just trying to throw entire networks with multiple environments on them into ACI. It's good but it also has a lot of challenges for us.

How are customer service and technical support?

Technical support is good but limited because Cisco ACI is so new. There's a lack of expertise on the support side. You need to get the right engineer on the call when you're having a problem.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup of the Cisco ACI is straightforward but also complex. Once you have designed how you're going to deploy it, i.e. your naming conventions and how you're going to configure things, it is standardized. 

That part of it is standard and easy to deploy. It's coming to that point where you've got the complexity of your naming conventions and all those things stood up properly that is hard.

It's only this engineer that we hired with a great mind who could make it work for us.

What about the implementation team?

We relied on an engineer who we hired on a contract side but was well versed in a lot of things. He had not done an ACI in deployment. Between him and our dedicated Cisco support engineers, we were able to stand it up without too many issues.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

The number one reason we chose it was that eventually, we will doing some sort of SD (Software Defined) access. When a user gets on the network and they connect, they'll have a persona. We'll know who they are. We'll know what to allow them into. A lot of that'll be controlled through ACI on the data center side.

We didn't have SD access. We're still going in that direction. It's going to be a while.

What other advice do I have?

On a scale of one to ten, I would rate this product in the five to six range. It is a good product. It will be solid as it matures. It's technically challenging for anyone.

One guy has stood up most of our environment. We are trying to use him to train all the rest of our staff. But it's a slow process. 

Understanding how to get in under the hood and make ACI work is not a simple task unless you're in and out of it regularly. Even the gentleman who installed it and works on it most of the time has to go back and play with it on his own before he makes changes. 

Just to remember how things are done is difficult because it's got a lot of uniqueness to it in the way things are deployed.

Anyone using Cisco ACI should know what their direction is. How much money do they have to spend? Then I could sit down with them and tell them whether ACI would the best solution or not for what they are doing. 

I don't think ACI is for everyone. It's for larger data centers that are going down this path of SD access. I am sure there are competitors out there now. We're just not looking into them because we already have ACI deployed. That where we're at now.

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