Cisco pushes Application Centric Infrastructure as big channel opportunity

Cisco announced a number of new Application Centric Infrastructure products, which the company said will speed the application deployment lifecycle.

With today’s announcement of Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) -- defining the next era in the unified data center, according to Cisco -- not only did the vendor flesh out the essence of its "spin-in" startup, Insieme Networks, it also laid out its ambitious data center strategy.

Calling it “the biggest opportunity that channel partners have from a data center switching standpoint -- ever,” John Growdon, senior director of data center sales with worldwide channels at Cisco, said that today’s announcement offers partners top- and bottom-line opportunities.

ACI, according to Cisco, couples innovations in software, hardware systems and ASICs with a dynamic, application-aware network policy model built around open APIs to accelerate the entire application deployment lifecycle.

Today’s ACI announcement includes a number of new products: the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC); the Nexus 9000 family of modular and fixed configuration ACI-ready switches (the Nexus 9000 is the building block for ACI); enhanced versions of the NX-OS operating system; and an ecosystem of more than 20 vendor partners.

Cisco also announced a number of professional and technical services and programs to help migrate customers to ACI. Cisco Certified Partners for Nexus can resell related services, such as the Cisco Readiness Planning, Cisco Quick Start Service or Nexus 9000 and Cisco Accelerated Deployment Services for Nexus 9000, according to the company.  Cisco services to secure the data center infrastructure, such as Cisco Data Center Security Posture, Assessment, Plan and Build, and Optimization Services, can be co-delivered by Cisco and Cisco Security Specialized Partners.

Ish Limkakeng, vice president of marketing at Insieme Networks, laid out Cisco’s product release roadmap, with additional announcements to be made in the coming months:

  • 40G Aggregation NX-OS, eight-slot chassis and 40 GB Ethernet line card will ship immediately or within days of today’s announcement.
  • Early next year the company will ship a top-of-rack NX-OS switch and 10 GB Ethernet line card.
  • Cisco plans to extend in the second quarter of 2014 the Nexus 9000 switch family to include a four-slot and an 16-slot system and additional top-of-rack switches.

From a strategic perspective, today’s announcement introduces a new way for Cisco partners to become relevant to their customers, moving beyond conversations at the customer network or compute level to the application professionals and line-of-business managers.

“We’re moving up the stack, and the reason partners will want to have those conversations with customers is to be able to roll out applications faster and have better agility,” said Growdon.

Mark Melvin, CTO at ePlus, Cisco Gold Partner, agrees. “It provides ePlus and the other launch partners a key differentiator in the market.  We are able to offer our customers a level of agility, scalability and performance that has only been talked about,” he said.

With today’s announcement, Melvin said that Cisco offers customers a clear migration path and the ability to develop their own business use cases to leverage this technology. “It’s a big advantage for customers who have very dynamic environments to be able to deliver new applications and services in near real time as they respond to market and business transitions.  For those with more static environments, they will have the advantage of visibility and reduced operational costs.”

Growdon stressed that now is the time for partners to seize on all the changes that are taking place in the data center, including private and hybrid cloud and the massive upgrade cycle that's required for companies to move forward.

An initial and immediate top-line opportunity for Cisco partners is to offer the standalone-mode Nexus switch with 40 GB Bidi Optics and upgrade existing networks with the customer’s existing fiber to take advantage of higher speeds and the higher densities that it will afford customers.

“All of our partner community can feel confident to participate in this upgrade and have compelling reason to do so,” said Growdon, particularly given that partners will be familiar with the Nexus operating system.

The Nexus 9000 Series offers modular and fixed 1/10/40 GB Ethernet switch configurations designed to operate in either standalone NX-OS mode or in ACI mode to take full advantage of ACI’s application policy-driven services and infrastructure automation features.

For partners, the opportunity gets greater as they move into the ACI side of the solution because of its advanced features and capabilities. At this level, Growdon pointed out that partners could offer professional services such as helping customers develop the application network profiles for their unique applications.

“There are going to be many professional services opportunities once partners get into the ACI, or fabric mode, with this platform that are compelling and go well beyond anything that the switches in the marketplace have ever had,” he said.

The initial opportunity is open to all Cisco’s certified partners who sell Nexus, whereas the more advanced opportunity, around the ACI or fabric ,will be restricted to advanced, well-trained partners numbering in the low hundreds, according to Growdon.

“We are very excited about the ACI announcement,” Melvin said.

The company is rolling out its partner enablement strategy, which will evolve over time.

From November through January, Cisco is offering a two-day training for all standard Cisco resellers for Nexus. The training focuses primarily on the standalone solution, including getting up to speed with the new products/platform, and provides some exposure to ACI. The training is rolling out in about 40 cities in North America and targets sales engineers and deployment engineers. The vendor expects more than 1,000 participants.

A two-hour WebEx class for account manager training begins in November. Cisco will run four WebEx classes; in December, it will post a recording of the class online for easy access for partners.

Cisco has plans to put a "lab" online so that partners get to work on the products and get more familiar with them. The company is aiming to have the lab available to partners by January.

Growdon recommends that partners sign up for a WebEx session tomorrow to learn about the ACI platform to understand how it can revolutionize their business.

Also included in today’s announcement, Cisco made public its intent to acquire the remaining interest in Insieme Networks. Cisco has invested $135 million to date. Insieme will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Cisco.

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