Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away called Networking, network devices and network engineers ruled the land — that is until the programmers came and took control of things. And over the recent years, the galaxy expanded as new empires came and went. 

Today, traditions have most certainly changed and over the recent years, the world saw big data centres switch to new systems such as Software Defined Networking or SDN. And with experts predicting significant growth in the field by the year 2022, it’s pretty obvious that it won’t be going away soon. 

But how does software defined networking work and what are the benefits of Cisco ACI? Today, Lumos Consulting will be breaking down the new network approach and what makes it so popular for enterprise networks. 

What SDN Is

Generally speaking, Software Defined Networking is not a new technology. It’s an approach to network management that enables dynamic, programmatically efficient network configuration in order to improve network performance and monitoring making it more like cloud computing than traditional network management.

It simplifies complex technologies and makes it much easier for service providers to improve the mobility, scalability and overall resilience of their network. SDN will allow them to direct traffic from a centralised control plane to wherever they need it to be!

SDN technologies are meant to address the fact that traditional networks are complex and, for the most part, cannot be managed centrally. Traditional networks could stand to be more flexible and easier to troubleshoot, too.

And among the several providers that tried to come up with their own kind of SDN, Cisco Network’s ACI leads the game. 

Cisco’s ACI Solution For Data Center

With the growing demand for a more innovative network architecture, Cisco decided to come up with their own version of the SDN approach; the Application Centric Infrastructure. Using a new approach they call spine leaf architecture, network devices take on the role of either the spine or the leaf. 

All of it points such as its servers are connected to the leaf and all the traffic goes from the leaf to spine to leaf. This strategy is often known as the network fabric. Once all the hardware connectivity needed is established, an Application Policy Infrastructure Controller or APIC will be in control. 

Cisco’s Application Policy Infrastructure Controller APIC is a piece of the software in charge of talking to the fabric or the physical switches and of configuring all of them into one location. Additionally, its created to provide users with a centric 

What Are Its Benefits

Since 2004 when the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) published RFC 3746 and technologies like OpenFlow and OpenDaylight popped up in 2013, SDN has matured a lot. It has drawn major players to the mix like Cisco with Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), Digital Network Architecture (DNA), Network Services Orchestrator (NSO), Intelligent WAN (iWAN) and Software Defined WAN (SD-WAN), to name a few. 

For the purpose of this article, Lumos decided to look at the benefits of Cisco ACI in comparison to the traditional process:

  • From an operations standpoint, ACI will allow network teams to simplify management and operations across the network by providing a common place to manage and enforce policies. 
  • One of the biggest benefits of using software defined networking is that it offers a single point for provisioning.  The networking team would now be able to use CLI, GUI and Programmatic means to deploy configuration to the Data Center fabric.
  • ACI will allow the network team to have visibility into both physical and virtual workloads on the network (with VMM integration, fabric can see VM attributes). You can also integrate Containers for microservices management.
  • It improves the ease and speed of deployment. Once the ACI objects are built they become re-usable. How long does it take to add a new VLAN to all the switches in your environment today?
  • SDN allows for Application Network Profiles. These will enable the networking team to define the policies and interdependencies of an application in the network. This works well for tiered applications, allowing the definitions of L4 – 7 services policies.
  • Automation (DevOps etc.).
  • It strengthens security (ACI is a whitelist model). This means that there is no communication between EPGs unless network policy explicitly allows it. The networking team may want to silo services (DHCP, LDAP, etc.) into EPGs. It can then define access to these services using Contracts.
  • The networking team will have faster troubleshooting for Day 2 operations – The Dashboard (Health Scores for physical and virtual network elements, application-based health scores, fast troubleshooting via health score drill-down).
  • No more spanning-tree (Non-Blocking) or flooding in the ACI fabric. ACI was designed with EAST/WEST traffic in mind. It allows traffic to flow from physical and virtual servers in the best possible way.
  • ACI allows for ISSU, providing that devices are dual-homed and for the systems/devices that are not. You can do scheduled upgrades automatically for times when these systems and/or devices are least used.
  • It streamlines configuration management.  ACI’s configurations are for the entire fabric. It makes backing up and rolling back all the devices in the fabric a simple process.  

The main purpose of a data center fabric is to move traffic from physical and virtualized servers. It brings in the best possible way to its destination, and while doing so, apply meaningful services such as:

  • Traffic optimization that improves application performance
  • Telemetry services that go beyond classic port counters
  • Overall health monitoring for what constitutes an application
  • Applying security rules embedded with forwarding

Cisco’s ACI uses software defined networking to streamline operations and improve security for the modern Data Center on its own.

Using SDN Is Always a Smart Move

These compelling benefits of software defined networking are just a handful of the ones that you can experience. The aforementioned benefits shows hat Cisco ACI enhances functionality and agility.

But if you still feel a bit overwhelmed by everything, you have us! We’re more than willing to meet with you to discuss how your business can successfully migrate to the cloud environment!