Cisco ACI Review

Modern and easy to configure but it needs a type of way to baseline the system in a network-centric fashion


What is our primary use case?

The primary use case is for the data center. 

How has it helped my organization?

We're just starting to deploy it. We literally just bought it and we're getting ready to start. 

What is most valuable?

The fact that it's modern and that it's easy to configure are the two most valuable features. 

What needs improvement?

In terms of improvement, I would like to see some sort of way to baseline the system in a network-centric fashion. The way ACI works is that it is very application-centric but I think that a lot of people who I have spoken to that use it don't need all that application-centric focus. Cisco says you can do a network-centric approach but I want to do network-centric in my design and then have the system organize and set itself that way. That would be cool. I would like to see that. If you as the customer want a network-centric design, after you build that initial configuration and you go into the GUI for the first time and you decide which direction you want it to go in and you point it in a certain direction, then it builds out the infrastructure to accommodate that, that would be beautiful.

They are selling the system as application-centric. I think a lot of people, ourselves included, are not ready to approach it in that way. It's too many knobs to turn. It's great overall architecture, scalability-wise, has an easy configuration, central configuration, but there are too many knobs to turn.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The early versions of the code were buggy but now, they've gotten better. The code a year ago wasn't so great. Now, it's much cleaner and more stable. 

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability is definitely something that we are looking at and that's one of the attractive features of ACI for us. It's one configuration interface and if you want to add more interface you just buy more gear and plug it in. It's almost a plug and play solution. We just don't know how our business is going to grow and change over time. We can buy and implement something today and they can come and say that they are doing an acquisition or some sort of growth or new business venture and we need more capacity in the data center. With ACI, if you need more capacity you can just buy more and plug them in without needing to do anything else. All of the sudden that infrastructure is there for me to use, configure, and add stuff to.

How are customer service and technical support?

We use professional services for the design configuration. 

If you previously used a different solution, which one did you use and why did you switch?

Our investment reason was purely due to the depreciation of the existing infrastructure. We needed to get rid of the old infrastructure and we had to make a choice. We needed to decide if we were going to use 9000 or if we were going to switch to ACI. We ended up deciding to go both ways. We're going to do some stuff with the traditional 9000 and we're going to do other stuff inside ACI and so it's going to be a hybrid.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup is pretty straightforward. Because it's a plug-and-play type of solution; you can take it out of the box, you can start just connecting wires, and then have it go from the infrastructure. Once the system is there then it becomes complicated. ACI is not simple by any stretch of the imagination, but the initial go-at-it is pretty straightforward, which is nice.

What about the implementation team?

We used an integrator for the deployment. 

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We're a Cisco shop so we weren't going to another avenue. We already have our partner for purchasing, all these relationships were established so it wasn't really much to choose in that regard. It was more of a design decision, 9000 or ACI. Originally, we said all ACI but then as we started really getting into the design and having deep conversations with our Cisco account team and the Advanced Services Team, they told us it makes sense to do some 9000 and leave some things as ACI. This is the route we're taking. 

What other advice do I have?

I would rate this solution a seven out of ten. I would really love that network-centric philosophy of configuration to be a little bit easier to do and the learning curve is steep. Being somebody who has been working with traditional Cisco IOS this is not bad at all. This is a complete rewrite of everything that you ever thought of from the networking standpoint.

The advice I would give to someone considering this solution is that you have to look at your data center. You have to look at your infrastructure. Not only that but you also have to look at the operational and support teams that are going to support this thing because if you have people that are familiar with the traditional way of the doing Cisco and have never touched ACI, then you're going to have a huge learning curve for your operational team to ramp them up and get them educated. That's definitely a factor. 

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