Application-centric infrastructure: 5 critical questions

Cisco is championing an alternative to software-defined networking, but which optimization approach will be the right strategic fit?

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References to an “application economy” aren’t new — but it’s the new network reality of increased mobile traffic, IP addresses for a host of devices, and the impact of BYOD that has changed the game. So when Cisco recently unveiled its “application centric infrastructure,” or ACI, it was a response to the industry fact that times are changing — organizations are looking at how software defines the network, and not the other way around.

There are two conceptual strategies at play here: the software-defined networking (SDN) approach — where “virtualized” software run independent from the underlying hardware — and the Cisco ACI angle that integrates the management of both physical and virtual networked IT resources via a data centre (i.e. its new Nexus 9000 data center switching portfolio) and cloud solution.

According to Cisco’s John Chambers earlier this month, ACI enables greater scalability; he touts the network as information broker and today’s IT as “the application economy.” Cisco claims that the open application centric infrastructure can help organizations cut down the time it takes to provision, change or remove applications via network switching in the cloud: “Every business is becoming an applications business. Every industry is becoming an application-centric industry, and the business model shift is only accelerating.  We all truly live in an application economy now.”

This ACI approach contrasts with SDN, which looks at the network from a different, virtualized perspective; InformationWEEK recently noted that “SDN offers programmatic control over both physical and virtual network devices that can dynamically respond to changing network conditions using OpenFlow or some other programmable and controllable packet/flow processing protocol.”

Chambers touts ACI as a “silo buster”: “(the technology) gives every administrator, whether they are focused on networking, security, storage, platforms or network services, the same view and the same single point of management for the whole IT infrastructure.”

When it comes to SDN platforms, industry analysts note “telcos will drive the strongest uptake in the SDN market, which could be worth almost $4 billion over the next two years.”

So which “similar yet different” approach is ideal for your environment? CIO and technology decision makers should be asking themselves these questions around network optimization:

  • How effective is the network supporting and coping with the rise increasingly mobile workforces and customers?
  • Does the network efficiently enable dynamic routing, transmission support, provisioning and hosting flexibility?
  • Is the network able to resourcefully handle the storage and retrieval of large, diverse data sets?
  • How effective is application deployment across the organization, particularly as it relates to mobile and the cloud?
  • Has the organization conducted a through review of the latest vendor solutions as it relates to improving networking, storage and virtualization capabilities?

According to a recent Cisco sponsored survey, 78 per cent of respondents stated “the network is more critical for delivering applications than it was at this time last year.” And from a vendor-agnostic point of view, it is all about delivering new product and services to your customers by running a more efficient data centre, an environment that is becoming increasing complex and heterogeneous in nature.

Whatever approach is taken, developing an effective innovation strategy — as it relates to optimizing the network — can be key for CIOs to ensure the business is better prepared for the new industry realities.

Begin your IT transformation by downloading ‘The Converged IP Network: Your Future Productivity Depends On It,’ a white paper from Allstream. 

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