Bringing ACI to VCE Vblock Systems

Cloud, Mobility and Big Data are driving a paradigm shift in the design, consumption and operation of IT infrastructure. Management models are shifting from component centric capabilities to providing a more comprehensive and holistic view of infrastructure resources.  Security is evolving from a perimeter defensive posture to highly adaptive capabilities across physical, virtual and cloud domains.

VCE was formed to lead the IT infrastructure paradigm shift by developing, selling and supporting the Vblock System™, the worlds most advanced converged infrastructure.   At the heart of every Vblock System are networks, the means by which Vblock System resources connect and the means by which users gain access to the applications they serve. The application economy is driving demands on the network in the form of higher performance, workload mobility, multi-tenancy, load-balancing, security and automation.  These capabilities are implemented each day in the thousands of Vblock Systems that VCE has in operation throughout the world.   For our customers, VCE represents business agility with low risk, high performance with high availability, and simplified, secure operations with low total cost of ownership.   The coordinated provisioning and optimization of infrastructure resources for multiple types of applications is essential to realize world-class IT services.

The emerging application economy has been limited by legacy IT architectures, as application performance is frequently predicated upon limitless bandwidth, while infrastructure resources are bandwidth constrained because they have limited visibility into application resource consumption dynamics.  A more comprehensive approach has been needed, one that abstracts the complexity of the underlying physical infrastructure from the cloud administrator.

Together, VCE and Cisco’s Insieme Networks team have been working on a better path. As one of Cisco’s major venture investments, VCE is built on a technology foundation of Cisco Networking & Compute, EMC Storage & Data Protection, VMware Server Virtualization & Virtualization Management.

Today, Cisco launches a new generation of Nexus offerings and their much anticipated Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), and VCE welcomes this portfolio of products that represent new powerful capabilities to be incorporated within Vblock Systems.  Cisco’s approach to paradigm shifts has always been to deliver architectural solutions that provide comprehensive capabilities, adapting to the many use cases encountered in a diverse world of customers.

The ACI architecture delivers a transformational network operations model for next-generation Vblock Systems.  While a single Vblock System can scale to hundreds of compute devices, the application economy is driving customers to scale beyond thousands of compute devices.  In scaling to thousands of compute devices, customers require resource isolation into fault domains by deploying multiple Vblock Systems. Network pathways to support workload mobility within a Vblock System are inherent to the system.   Creating network pathways to support any workload moving to any Vblock System requires a new approach to networking.

In an ACI fabric-enabled Vblock environment,  applications drive networking behavior.   Pre-defined Application Network Profiles become policy templates for how networking end-points communicate and how their networking attributes are operationalized.

APPLICATION-NETWORK-POLICYAs application resources are moved, their network security, performance and connectivity attributes remain constant.  The connectivity, security, load-balancing and quality of service network attributes become an extensible policy model, allowing application administrators to define how they need the network to operate, and the network’s resources (physical or virtual) are abstracted and then operationalized.  The configuration of the network no longer consists of provisioning individual components on a box by box, virtual switch by virtual switch basis.  Instead, the network operates as a system with aggregated capabilities, instructed by a centralized policy entity called the Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (Cisco APIC).   Cisco APIC enables Vblock Systems to have one network policy, extensible to every system and every workload, dynamically aware of the application’s networking requirements.


The ability to have dynamic network policy,  driven by applications and enabling seamless mobility, will significantly boost cloud administrator productivity in the modern data center.  Cloud administrators also have a desire for deep, real-time operational visibility into how the entire system is operating.  VCE introduced Vision Intelligent Operations software to provide converged visibility across compute, storage and network resources within a Vblock System.   This systems-based telemetry view has given VCE customers extensive visibility into the system resources and their correlation to each other.  As multiple Vblock Systems are networked together, understanding the state of network pathways interconnecting Vblock Systems is vital to facilitating workload movement and user access.   A Cisco ACI fabric enabled Vblock environment provides new levels of visibility through systems-based network telemetry, correlating information between network resources and providing a single network operations perspective.


Customers deploying Vblock Systems with Cisco ACI will have application level visibility for tracking of end-point policies and system performance attributes for any application environment.  This visibility is first seen in individual ACI enabled Vblock Systems and extends to application environments running on multiple Vblock Systems.  The Cisco ACI Fabric provides health status for every physical or virtual network port,  every switch port buffer and every connection to any resource within a Vblock System or between Vblock Systems.  This new insight and its inclusion in the VCE Vision object model will enable new converged operations capabilities that will be incorporated in future VCE Vision software innovations.

VCE Vision allows a broad management ecosystem of partners to consolidate their view of Vblock Systems with comprehensive context around how the constituent products have been integrated through VCE’s productization process.   In the Cisco ACI keynote VCE collaborated with Cisco to produce an initial use case in demonstrating the power of Cisco ACI in combination with converged infrastructure, specifically Vblock Systems.  I want to provide some more insight into our work regarding this use case.

For the ACI keynote demo, we wanted to demonstrate how ACI-enabled Vblock Systems can facilitate entire application environment migrations from legacy infrastructure to Vblock Systems.  For the specific demonstration we used an existing SAP business warehouse, running on legacy infrastructure and ingested its application model into a Vnomic desired state controller.  VCE Vision Intelligent Operations provides the converged infrastructure object model for the destination ACI-enabled Vblock System.  Vnomic’s desired state controller then determined how best to provision the resources of the ACI-enabled Vblock System to accommodate the SAP business warehouse, and then performed provisioning and migration.  Because the Vblock System was ACI-enabled, end point groups were configured based on application landscapes.  These end point groups were then assigned appropriate security, quality of service and connectivity attributes.   As the Vnomic declarative state controller prepared to perform the migration it became possible to migrate physical endpoints to virtual endpoints as the network policy would be assigned to the endpoint no matter it’s ultimate physical or virtual state.   Once the SAP business warehouse was operational on the Vblock System, physical or virtual resources could be moved within a Vblock System or between multiple Vblock Systems operating within the ACI fabric.


Today’s announcement and first demonstration hints at the possibilities for agility and optimization of ACI-enabled Vblock Systems, combined with VCE Vision Intelligent Operations.  We are excited to continue our journey in bringing together new operating models that combine application and infrastructure intelligence. The technology world continues to rapidly change and there are points where new concepts are introduced that give way to a quantum advances in innovation. Cisco ACI is an important contribution to the state of the art in networking, and VCE is proud to bring Cisco’s networking leadership technologies to the world in our industry leading Vblock Systems.


About the Author: Trey Layton

Trey started his career in the US Military stationed at United States Central Command, MacDill AFB, FL. Trey served as an intelligence analyst focused on the Middle East and conducted support of missions in the first days of the war on terror. Following the military Trey joined Cisco where he served as an engineer for Data Center, IP Telephony and Security Technologies. Trey later joined the partner ecosystem where he modernized the practices of several national and regional partner organizations, helping them transform offerings to emerging technologies. Trey joined NetApp in 2004 where he contributed to the creation of best practices for Ethernet Storage and VMware integration. Trey contributed to the development of the architecture which became the basis for FlexPod. In 2010 Trey joined VCE, where he was promoted by Chairman & CEO, VCE, Michael Capellas to Chief Technology Officer, VCE. As CTO Trey was responsible for the product and technology strategy for Vblock, VxBlock, VxRack, Vscale and VxRail. During his tenure, VCE was recognized as one of the fastest technology companies to reach $1 Billion in revenues and one of the most successful joint ventures in IT history. The origional VCE products Trey has led strategy on continue to be leaders in their respective share categories around the world. In 2016 Trey was asked to lead from concept the development of an all Dell Technologies converged product. From that initial concept Trey led a global team of engineers to deliver Dell EMC PowerOne, the industry’s first autonomous infrastructure solution, embedding open source technologies which enable automated infrastructure integration based on declarative outcomes.