New Citrix NetScaler Integration with Cisco ACI


August 14, 2016

In the software defined data center movement (SDDC), many solutions can complement each other. Two of which are Cisco ACI and Citrix NetScaler. ACI, in a nutshell, is a special intelligence given to select Cisco networking equipment, such as the Nexus Series. It allows admins to create policy templates for applications. Among other uses, these policy templates can determine network priority for key applications.

Elsewhere in the SDDC movement are application delivery controllers, such as Citrix NetScaler. NetScaler is used to help ensure constant application availability, improve application performance, server health monitoring, content specific routing, and more.

These two solutions have obvious complimentary functions. Each improves the performance and availability of your key applications, and both Cisco and Citrix recognized this fact early on. Instead of trying to outdo each other in the SDDC space, both NetScaler and ACI were designed to integrate with each other.

At the Cisco Live 2016 event in Las Vegas, Cisco and Citrix announced even further integration and improved customization between these two solutions.


Three Modes of Management for ACI and NetScaler


Since 2014, Citrix and Cisco offered the standard NetScaler/ACI integration revolving around the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC). At Cisco Live 2016, they unveiled two new options.


Service Policy Mode

The Service Policy Mode is the existing integration. It blends NetScaler into the APIC management portal and carries through ACI and NetScaler policies to your applications from a single source. It is best used to consolidate and streamline application management functions.


Network Policy Mode

Available in the NetScaler Device Package 11.0 is the new Network Policy Mode. Under this design, NetScaler is still within the ACI network fabric as before, but there is no unified management. Administrators can then set unique application policies through the APIC and NetScaler independently.


Services Manager (Hybrid) Mode

In an effort to strike a balance between the two, Citrix and Cisco are soon to release the Services Manager Mode, otherwise known as Hybrid Mode. Hybrid Mode differs from the Network Policy Mode by altering the relationship between ACI and NetScaler. Instead of NetScaler and its management platform being housed within the ACI fabric, the new SDN approach will simply have two controllers: the Cisco APIC and the NetScaler Management and Analytics System (MAS). The APIC will be responsible for policies related to the Data Link and Network layers of the OSI model. The MAS will then be responsible for the Transport, Session, Presentation, and Application layers.

Hybrid mode helps segregate the work of application deployment between the network and application teams. Network teams calibrate the APIC policy template. The application development team then receives those requirements and finishes the complete policy in the Citrix MAS.


Cisco ACI and Citrix

As the industry moves closer towards the software defined data center, more and more integrations like this are going to become necessary. The evolution of information technology has been a journey of simplification and consolidation. Today that means virtualization, and if a virtualized data center means we are left using fifteen different administration applications just to manage our network, we are sure to fall short of the convenience promised by a SDDC.

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