Offspring of a Common Vision: Clustered Data ONTAP and Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure

By Jay Kidd, Chief Technology Officer at NetApp


This week I participated in the launch of Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) in New York. ACI is a compelling vision to simplify and automate the provisioning, monitoring, and management of the entire infrastructure stack according to application profiles. Applications in the cloud-mobile world are not only complex beasts of multiple federated VMs, storage resources, network relationships, and security controls, but these components can move between physical servers or storage (enabled by clustered Data ONTAP) in a manner that requires network connectivity to be very adaptive and well connected to the application. Cisco did a great job of server-side profiles with the introduction of UCS Manager and the ACI initiative extends that to the network and the entire geo-distributed stack of application infrastructure.  


One of the basic tenets of clustered Data ONTAP is that data is not bound to any single storage controller and is free to move around without disruption to the data access, much like hypervisors enable the mobility of applications. This agility improves utilization of storage and storage controller bandwidth via non-disruptive rebalancing and also allows complete tech refresh of storage systems without taking any outages. This vision is very consistent with the agility enablement of the entire application infrastructure stack provided by ACI. The end-to-end integration enables our customers to deploy new applications in a matter of moments. It streamlines the number of required touch-points between organizational groups. The IT world only becomes truly software defined when applications are not dependent on any single instance of a piece of hardware for their continuous operation. 


NetApp has been working with Insieme for nearly a year and has already delivered the first phase of integration in anticipation of the ACI fabric supported in our clustered Data ONTAP 8.2 release. Using ACI, a brand new set of storage controllers can be added to an existing cluster under control of the (Cisco) Application Policy Infrastructure Controller. This demonstrates not only the extension of the ACI vision to storage, but the crossover between virtual and physical worlds that ACI offers.   


NetApp and Cisco plan to expand on these basic capabilities to simplify the provisioning and management of servers, network, and storage according to application profiles managed by orchestrators such as UCS Director and OpenStack using the ACI APIs. As a part of these plans, ACI and UCS Director could rapidly provision storage in a secure multi-tenant manner using the power of clustered Data ONTAP storage virtual machines. Our alliance on FlexPod has produced the industry’s #1 Worldwide Integrated Infrastructure market share according to IDC so we have proven that we know how to work together to deliver compelling value to the customer. 


There will be a great deal written about ACI and the vision for order of magnitude improvements in IT operational efficiency. For IT practitioners it is worth reading and understanding. The revolution started by adoption of server virtualization and propelled by the availability of public and private cloud offerings just got a big boost with Application Centric Infrastructure. There hasn’t been this much significant change in the IT stack since the 80s and it is great fun to be a part of it.


Great blog, Jay.  ACI is a complex topic and you helped simplify the message quite well.  It's awesome to see NetApp and Cisco partnering so tightly on ACI.