Using Cisco ACI and VMware NSX Together


November 8, 2016

In the technology industry, people often become focused on one product or another.

What’s the next big technology?

What’s the best application for the job?

What hardware brand should we side with?

It’s natural. Developers position their products directly against each other and compete for dominance of the market, but that’s not always the best stance for an IT environment.

At the end of the day, your company doesn’t care about the politics of the IT industry. It has a job to do, and whatever solution (or combination of solutions) works best is the one the company should pursue.

The top software defined networking solutions from Cisco and VMware are perfect examples of this dynamic. Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) and VMware NSX can both be used to create a software defined network, but each accomplishes this task in a very different way. Because of this, ACI and NSX excel at different assignments even if much of their functionality overlaps.

Truly, in a large IT environment, the best way to use Cisco ACI and VMware NSX is together.


Drawing Distinctions: VMware NSX and Cisco ACI


Though they are both SDN solutions, NSX and ACI are very different:


VMware NSX:

VMware NSX is a software overlay application. It virtualizes the network by extracting the intelligence from the networking equipment. Instead, NSX gains complete control over how your network actually operates. With this power, you can spin up virtual networks as you would virtual machines, and effectively place a firewall around each virtual machine on your hypervisor.

Furthermore because NSX is a software overlay application, it is completely vendor agnostic. NSX will function on any hardware in any modern network.


Cisco ACI:

Cisco ACI takes almost the exact opposite approach. Instead of centralizing intelligence to an application, an ACI strategy involves Cisco networking equipment with even more intelligence. Select Cisco networking equipment, such as the Nexus 9000 series, is ACI-enabled. With these switches and routers, network administrators are able to create policy templates that dictate how the network should treat and prioritize certain applications. These templates can then be cloned and tweaked for every application in the environment.


Using Cisco ACI and VMware NSX Together

To combine these two applications, we just need to focus their efforts on what they do best.

At the core and switching layers of the network, we are going to rely on Cisco ACI. Here, administrators will be able to build their network and use the policy templates to dictate how the network should respond to each application. ACI does an excellent job of this. The ability to copy the templates makes it easy to tweak for each application or introduce a new application to the environment. However, there are still some functions that ACI cannot do. For that, we must depend on NSX.

In this scenario, NSX will serve us well at the hypervisor level. The team can use NSX to spin up virtual networks for developers, new applications, or other business units in just a matter of minutes. In addition, the ability to microsegment the network can be a great boost to your overall security strategy.

It’s important to recognize that individually, these solutions cannot accomplish everything, and there is nothing stopping you from using both at once.


Hardware vs. Applications

While this article has demonstrated the value in combining solutions and applications together, this is not a universal principle. There’s still value in choosing one hardware manufacturer for your data center. Unifying your data center makes troubleshooting, maintenance, and the refresh cycle easier on your team.


Download our Free White Paper

Learn more about SDN in our new white paper: Modernizing Your IT Environment with Software Defined Networking. In the paper, we take a hard look at SDN solutions and what an IT environment needs in order to make use of them. We take an outdated example environment and show steps that the company can take to alleviate their challenges and leverage a cutting-edge strategy like SDN.

Download the white paper now.

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