Combining Cisco ACI and VMware NSX Together


June 14, 2016

In technology, there are always multiple developers offering different products to address the same problems. Sometimes these products are very similar, as in the case of Jabber vs. Skype for Business. Other times, they operate on fundamentally different principles but have overlapping functionality. IT directors are often asked to choose only one of these technologies for their environment.

However, in rare situations, it can actually be beneficial to combine solutions from competing developers. Integrating both Cisco ACI and VMware NSX to create a software defined network (SDN) is one such example.


Cisco ACI vs. VMware NSX

Both Cisco ACI and VMware NSX are packaged as software defined networking solutions, but each technology takes a very different approach to achieving that goal.

  • VMware NSX: NSX is a software overlay application and can be applied to any existing networking equipment. Once installed, new networks can be spun up in moments, much like a virtual machine. Furthermore, NSX can be used to enact micro-segmentation within the environment. Micro-segmentation effectively creates smaller firewalls to surround each VM in the network and prevents east-west traffic of malicious files.
  • Cisco ACI: Instead of a software application, Cisco has placed their networking intelligence in the hardware itself. Nexus switching and other Cisco ACI-enabled gear are deployed in the network. Using their built-in intelligence, the switches and routers can access enhanced features. Network administrators can then create and clone automation templates to dictate network behavior based on the application in question. The result is an SDN environment that is functionally similar to one utilizing NSX.


Both Software Defined Networking Technologies Combined

When deploying both NSX and ACI in the same environment, they can be used to fill different roles. ACI and the Cisco hardware it is integrated with can serve as your physical fabric, and above the fabric in the virtual layer, NSX can serve as your network and security virtualization platform.

For example, when you deploy a new hypervisor host, network connectivity will be established using the physical Cisco ACI-enabled hardware. Then, a policy template and network profile can be created using ACI to ensure priority bandwidth for any application. In this example, that application will be our VMware vSphere hosts and the iteration of NSX they are running.

Now, once NSX and ACI are connected in this fashion, vRealize Suite (VMware’s cloud management software) can use NSX to provision resources for a new application and create templates for compute, storage, security, and network services. NSX then enables micro-segmentation for VM security and ACI policy templates can be distributed to the network hardware to ensure performance.

Though the Cisco ACI and VMware NSX are very different in principle and deployment, they are not entirely mutually exclusive. They can be successfully combined, in certain environments, to effectively expedite and simplify application provisioning.

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For Further Reading

SDN, ACI, and Micro-segmentation, Oh My!

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