Cisco ACI vs DNA. What’s the Difference?


October 2, 2017

In June 2017, Cisco made what some are calling their biggest announcement of the decade. That announcement was the release of the Network Intuitive. The Network Intuitive itself includes a number of existing Cisco network technologies. As a collection, these technologies serve to increase network automation, performance, and security.

Yet, just last year we were talking about the Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) as a definitive software defined network solution purported to increase network automation, performance, and security. The confusion occurs because of this overlap in technologies and function. Even within the Network. Intuitive., you’ll find overlap in how these technologies are discussed.

Let’s parse out these technologies and see if we can draw clear lines between them.


Cisco ACI vs DNA and the Network. Intuitive.


Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure


Cisco ACI is a software defined networking solution that works a little differently than other competitors. Instead of abstracting the intelligence from the network hardware, ACI network hardware is equipped with a new kind of intelligence. Administrators can create, customize, and duplicate network policies. Then they can instruct the infrastructure to follow these rules for specific applications. In effect, it creates the same results as other SDN solutions like VMware NSX, but the intelligence is in the software within the infrastructure rather than an independent application.

ACI also includes a Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) as well. Through the APIC, administers have centralized access to their network management. They can adjust policy, view network health, and implement advanced capabilities like QoS and multi-tenant security.


Cisco Digital Network Architecture Center


In effect, Cisco ACI allows your environment to deploy new networks virtually, adjust application policies on the network, and gain greater network visibility. The Cisco DNA Center takes these ideas a step further and builds upon the achievements of Cisco ACI. The DNA Center is a centralized automation and management platform for the entire network, and it is actually powered by a new enterprise-scale version of the APIC called the APIC-EM.

Beyond the templated approach to application policy, the DNA Center can also automate IWAN deployment and management. In addition, it can provide business insight from your Cisco wireless infrastructure with CMX Cloud. Using presence and location information, the DNA Center can deliver customer behavior data to the network administrators.




Though the DNA Center is a crucial element of the Network. Intuitive., it is not everything. The Network. Intuitive. includes a number of other powerful automation and management solutions for the network, such as Software-Defined Access. SD-Access is itself a tool that includes other tools within it.

SD-Access provides an administrator with the DNA Center and all of it capabilities. From there, is also provides an Identity Services Engine which allows you to automate access and security policies across wired, wireless, and VPN connections. Finally, SD-Access also includes an analytic platform for network monitoring and metrics.


Term Breakdown


With these descriptions in mind, here is how the different terms break down.

  • Cisco ACI is an independent software-defined networking product.
  • The Intuitive. is a set of solutions that utilizes some aspects of ACI and builds upon them.
  • Cisco Digital Network Architecture is the network architecture upon which the Network. Intuitive. is built. Effectively, Cisco DNA is a technology. The Network. Intuitive. is more like a strategy or product grouping.
  • Cisco DNA Center is an automation and management platform that uses the new Cisco APIC, which is also used in Cisco ACI.
  • SD-Access is another grouping of products and tools within the Network. Intuitive. that includes the DNA Center among other solutions.


Network Automation


The important point here is that all of these technologies are pointing in the same direction. There are now more devices in use today than people on Earth. That creates an enormous amount of complexity in our networks, and we need to find ways to cut through that complexity. The Network. Intuitive. strives to create a network that learns, that responds to needs before their problems, that can prevent malicious attacks before they ever reach the edge.  Whether ACI, DNA, the Network. Intuitive., or the next solution not yet invented, automation is the future of the network.


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