Cisco ACI Review

Stable with good baseline functionalities but requires better flexibility

What is our primary use case?

Primarily, what we like is the ability to do micro-segmentation. We have many different application endpoints, and one of the key use cases for us was to be able to classify the application endpoints into arbitrary buckets of different silos. We need to be able to ensure that different endpoints will go into, let's say, a production silo, versus a development silo, versus a test silo. That was one of the use cases.

The function above and beyond that is that you get things like automation as part of the SDN framework. Therefore, you get the data center overlay that is built automatically and provisioned automatically from the automation capability that's built-in.

What is most valuable?

The solution has all of the baseline functionalities for any sort of SDN capability. 

The stability is quite good.

The initial setup is straightforward.

What needs improvement?

One of the areas that need work is feature flexibility. If you want to do things like routing policies it's not cookie-cutter, however, you want to customize routing policies. It becomes a little bit more constrained due to the feature set, the routing policy feature set within ACI, doesn't allow for you to get very customized when it comes to, let's say, failover type scenarios. However, that's just an artifact of the product maturity. It's going to take some time before the product becomes mature and they have the ability to have more customized features enabled. At version 4.0, these features were not yet available. We ended up having to basically export the routing functionality, the more advanced routing functions, outside of ACI and just put it into the routing infrastructure around it.

The initial setup is not intuitive.

Technical support needs to be more helpful. It's rare that you get a knowledgeable person.

It would be nice for them to provide visibility at a cheaper price point. Visibility is something that everybody wants to achieve with their workload. One of the benefits of SDN is supposedly the ability to collect all that telemetry and correlate it to something that is actionable and meaningful. That's a key requirement, however, the bar is so high in terms of costs. In our environment, we opted out of it as it's so expensive, however, it would be nice, as, if you don't have visibility, then how do you properly segment your workload? The minute you start segmenting, you kind of cut off workload communication. If your goal is micro-segmentation and putting your workload into arbitrary silos, and if you don't have the visibility, then it will be very difficult to achieve. Therefore, if you don't have visibility and you want micro-segmentation and you don't want to pay, then ACI is not your solution.

For how long have I used the solution?

I've been using the solution for two years at this point.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The solution is stable. We don't have issues with it crashing or freezing.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

While supposedly it's scalable, the program is not. I don't have any data point that I can provide for scalability within ACI, as our environment is fairly small.

How are customer service and technical support?

Technical support is hit or miss. Sometimes you can open a ticket and you will not have to escalate it three or four different times before you get somebody that is competent. I would say that's 85% of the time, however, the other 15% of the time you get lucky and you get somebody that knows what they're talking about.

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

I have some experience with VMware. I'd describe it as more intuitive and easier to configure, however, it's a different solution as it's software-based as opposed to ACI which is hardware-based. 

How was the initial setup?

The solution's initial setup is straightforward. It is not difficult. One other area that I would say is a negative is the way that they have their setup. It's not intuitive. It's very complicated and if you want to provision an interface or something like that and get that interface, it requires a bunch of steps that are very counter-intuitive. It's not user-friendly.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

The pricing could be a bit cheaper.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

If I compare ACI to a VMware NSX-T type solution, I don't know if there's a differentiator there compared to NSX. I will say that NSX has much higher numbers of differentiation, as they have visibility into the workload at the hypervisor. Having used ACI, we were looking at solution sets that will give us specific capabilities beyond that. The value of NSX is it will give you the visibility component.

What other advice do I have?

The version that I was working on is a 40 version, however, the company is at a 50 version at this point.

If you are looking for a solution that will give you the ability to have really good visibility into your workload, how your workload performs and functions, ACI doesn't give you that level of granularity as compared to, for instance, a solution like VMware NSX. For them to provide visibility, you're going to have to spend a lot of money on Tetration, which is another solution that they try to force on you. If visibility is one of your key requirements, then you might want to rethink your data center SDN solution for ACI.

I'd rate the solution at a six out of ten.

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