Cisco ACI Overview

Cisco ACI is the #1 ranked solution in our list of top Network Virtualization tools. It is most often compared to VMware NSX: Cisco ACI vs VMware NSX

What is Cisco ACI?
Cisco Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI) reduces TCO, automates IT tasks, and accelerates data center application deployments. It accomplishes this using a business-relevant Software Defined Networking (SDN) policy model across networks, servers, storage, security, and services.
Cisco ACI Buyer's Guide

Download the Cisco ACI Buyer's Guide including reviews and more. Updated: January 2021

Cisco ACI Customers
Bowling Green State University, du, Qatar University
Cisco ACI Video

Pricing Advice

What users are saying about Cisco ACI pricing:
  • "If you compare the licensing and total cost of ACI, it's cheaper than NSX because of the licensing fees. If you are going for full NSX features it will be too expensive, especially the next-generation firewalling feature."
  • "We bought a package for hardware, software, and support. At that time, Cisco was simply selling that package to distributors, then we opted for it directly."

Cisco ACI Reviews

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Syed Ali Wajahat
Sr Network and Security Consultant (SDN & Security) at a media company with 1,001-5,000 employees
Real User
Top 5Leaderboard
Mar 7, 2019
Provides integration with VMM domains and their L4 and L7 devices, like device packages for F5, Palo Alto, and ASA

What is our primary use case?

I'm in ACI operations and the current use for Cisco ACI is to host the entire server farm and all the applications which are hosted in our data center, here in Qatar, and also in different locations.

Pros and Cons

  • "We are doing automation from ACI and we have integration with Azure. With the Azure stack integration we can have total automation. We can configure the EPGs from there, and we can configure load balancing functionalities from there as well. The most useful feature is that you don't need to configure anything on ACI itself. You can configure on Azure and it will provision your application."
  • "Where there is room for improvement from ACI is for Layer 2 and Layer 7 packages. Normally, when you're updating your ACI fabric or you're introducing new Layer 4 to Layer 7 devices, there are some constraints, there are some limitations... When you are doing device packages you will not have the functionality of ASM. It's like WAF, web application firewalls. So you need to configure it manually."

What other advice do I have?

If somebody is planning to implement ACI, it's mostly because they want their network to be centralized and they want their network to be more organized. They want more efficient provisioning of networking and applications. By implementing ACI they will need fewer resources and will have reduced operations costs. They will have more flexibility over the network. They can have multiple types of automation on their fabric, instead of using normal switching fabric. In terms of maintaining it, the operation is something else. It depends on the number of applications and their business criticality…
Imran Alvi
Network Consultant at Onstack Inc
Consultant
Top 20
Mar 5, 2019
Integrates with multiple virtual environments, but native support for security is lacking

What is our primary use case?

The primary use case is in an environment where the customer has a very large virtual compute and a lot of physical compute as well - in terms of the number of servers - and a big heterogeneous firewall. They want to converge their racks where they have a physical firewall and a virtual firewall. They have their metal servers and VMware or Hyper-V VMs. This is the best use case. This is where ACI fits best because it can integrate the physical and virtual environments together within a single fabric. It can give a very good overview, an "aerial view" of your whole data center within your… more »

Pros and Cons

  • "The best part of ACI is that it can integrate with a lot of virtual environments like VMware, Hyper-V, and KVM."
  • "Better troubleshooting features would be helpful. In ACI, it can be a big mess, a real headache to troubleshoot a single issue... The troubleshooting part, and the information that ACI gives you, sometimes don't give you a proper, inside picture of what's going on within the fabric."

What other advice do I have?

Plan. Don't jump to a conclusion, plan it. You should first know your infrastructure and what your targets are, what you are trying to implement because, when you are more security focused, Cisco ACI can give you a tough in implementation. If you are more into converging your fabric, you want to your data center to be very converged into a single fabric with fast convergence times, go for ACI. There are different use cases based on what the customer's priorities are. So plan well, know your target, what you're trying to achieve. If you want to deploy more VMs faster, go for NSX. Don't go for…
Learn what your peers think about Cisco ACI. Get advice and tips from experienced pros sharing their opinions. Updated: January 2021.
455,962 professionals have used our research since 2012.
DataCent582b
Data Center Implementation Engineer at a consultancy with 1-10 employees
Real User
Jun 27, 2019
Our clients can implement one tool and have a unified visual picture of the health of the network

What is our primary use case?

We implement customized Cisco ACI for our clients as a networking solution for a variety of purposes.

Pros and Cons

  • "In a very general way, the ease of access, ease of use, and ease of connecting the system is a valuable feature in itself. The solution doesn't really increase detection rates as that is not what it was created for. Threat prevention comes in from other devices that might be connected into the Cisco ACI that monitors external traffic. It maintains what end-of-life products would be doing and offers other opportunities to unify solutions."
  • "Figuring out how to implement the product for clients is the area we struggle with the most every day. Perhaps an enhancement would be artificially intelligent solutions, but that would be further down the road."

What other advice do I have?

I would rate the solution as a nine out of ten. It is a great product, but there are issues with it. It's not perfect and it would have to be to get a ten. The issues that are there are easily mitigated but that also requires effort. The analytics are pretty good. The built-in dashboard essentially provides analytics out of the box. There are other plug-ins that you can use to make the solution work better for you as a company. You have the option of developing other tools and utilities to use with it because it's an API. When you are first building the system, it takes longer because you have…
DarrylG
Technology Support Specialist at Fujitsu
MSP
Mar 5, 2019
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.

Pros and Cons

  • "One area where it has an advantage... 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."
  • "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."

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…
ITEvolutd7ab
IT Evolution Manager at a aerospace/defense firm with 1,001-5,000 employees
Real User
Feb 5, 2019
It was easy to set up and implement

What is our primary use case?

We are using it for application centric infrastructure (ACI). It is the evolution of the current data center setup from the legacy design to something programmable with some automation features which are missing today. The key challenge is to set up a new data center, then move all the legacy stuff into the new design. We need to understand how to do it, as are already under way. We already have products, but we need to go farther in the design and development of the platform.

Pros and Cons

  • "Once we have it running, it should be easier for us to program our IT rather than going case-by-case, by switches and different elements, or program it by hand."
  • "Biannually, there is a new design delivered by Cisco. Thus, you are always running behind the new design, and it never stops. With Cisco ACI, this has been a nightmare."

What other advice do I have?

I would recommend the solution to anyone with a similar use case, though try for a greenfield solution or project instead of migrating your previous infrastructure. In principle, what we are looking for is to have one gigantic tool which can be programmable, making our lives easier in terms of troubleshooting and management.
SystemsNd760
Systems Network Manager at a non-tech company with 1,001-5,000 employees
Real User
Jun 25, 2019
Easy to install and scale, but there is a steep learning curve attached

What is our primary use case?

Our primary use for this solution is in our data center.

Pros and Cons

  • "It is a complete re-write of everything that you've ever thought of from a networking standpoint."
  • "It would be nice if I could specify network-centric in my design, and the system would organize and set itself up in that way."

What other advice do I have?

We are currently testing this solution in a lab, preparing for our deployment into production. We are not ready to approach this solution in an application-centric way. It's a great overall architecture, good scalability-wise, easy to configure, and a central configuration, but there are too many knobs to turn. We were originally going to use ACI for everything. However, after we really started looking at the design and having conversations with our Cisco advanced services team, we saw that it made sense to use a hybrid solution. My advice for anybody interested in implementing this solution…
Mark Hayden
Lead Network Engineer at a consultancy with 10,001+ employees
Consultant
Jun 30, 2019
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.

Pros and Cons

  • "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."
  • "So far we've had very few issues, a couple of routing things that were glitches within ACI."

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…
SeniorNe9978
Senior Network Engineer at a pharma/biotech company with 1,001-5,000 employees
Real User
Jul 9, 2019
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.

Pros and Cons

  • "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."
  • "In terms of improvement, I would like to see some sort of way to baseline the system in a network-centric fashion."

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…
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