What is Cisco ACI?
Cisco ACI is the solution that emerged from Cisco, following its acquisition of Insieme, which is
a company they funded for more than two years.
ACI is seen by many as Cisco’s software-defined networking (SDN) offering for data center and
How Cisco ACI Works?
Cisco ACI is a tightly coupled policy-driven solution that integrates software and hardware.
The hardware for Cisco ACI is based on the Cisco Nexus 9000 family of switches.
The software and integration points for ACI include a few components, including Additional
Data Center Pod, Data Center Policy Engine, and Non-Directly Attached Virtual and Physical Leaf
Switches. While there isn’t an explicit reliance on any specific virtual switch, at this point,
policies can only be pushed down to the virtual switches if Cisco’s Application Virtual Switch (AVS)
is used, though there has been talk about extending this to Open vSwitch in the near future.
To a large extent, the network for Cisco ACI is no different than what has been deployed over
the past several years in enterprise data centers. What is different, however, is the management
and policy framework, along with the protocols used in the underlying fabric.
In a leaf-spine ACI fabric, Cisco is provisioning a native Layer 3 IP fabric that supports
equal-cost multi-path (ECMP) routing between any two endpoints in the network, but uses
overlay protocols, such as virtual extensible local area network (VXLAN) under the covers
to allow any workload to exist anywhere in the network. Supporting overlay protocols is
what will give the fabric the ability to have machines, either physical or virtual, in
the same logical network (Layer 2 domain), even while running Layer 3 routing down to the
top of each rack. Cisco ACI supports VLAN, VXLAN, and network virtualization using generic
routing encapsulation (NV-GRE), which can be combined and bridged together to create a logical
network/domain as needed.