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SDN & the battle of two giants – NSX v Cisco ACI

Written by: Achilles Georginis
Date: 30 October 2018

In a digital economy, every enterprise must be able to with agility to constantly changing business requirements. 


What is SDN? 

SDN (Software Defined Networking)  is an emerging technology which aims to improve network control by enabling organisations and IT service providers to respond rapidly to change via a centralised control console. This enables the entire network and its complex technology aspects to be managed consistently. 


Demand for SDN is soaring 

Demand for SDN is expanding at a rapid pace, driven by numerous factors, including:

The increasing adoption of cloud and IT convergence. Gartner predicts that by 2022 75% of today’s IT service providers are at risk of becoming irrelevant without adopting a ‘cloud-first’ approach.  
Rising demand across a wide range of industry sectors including retail, manufacturing, telecommunications, and healthcare.
Widening adoption of software-defined network solutions and services.
Furthermore, McKinsey notes that next generation enabling technology is one of the five key hallmarks of an agile business which requires evolving technology architecture, systems, and tools as well as next generation technology development and delivery practices.  
To place it in context, the market value of SDN is predicted to exceed $88 billion by 2024.

SDN benefits for businesses

According to an overview provided by Cisco, SDN offers the following benefits:
Fast and automated application deployment
On-demand app delivery and mobility at scale
Greater resource flexibility and utilisation
Reduction of IT costs by enhancing the benefits of data centre virtualisation
Improved overall customer service lifecycle

In addition, SDN provides better security and improved scalability. 

VMWare NSX or Cisco ACI?

As companies seek to become more agile, clear demarcation lines seem to have been drawn between two SDN platforms, VMWare NSX, and Cisco ACI.  But which is most effective for your requirements – and is it a clear choice of either/or? 
Before making any investment in SDN technology, it is vital to have a clear understanding of its advantages and limitations, as well as your organisation’s software overlay and hardware underlay. 

VMware NSX

VMware NSX virtualises your network platform, integrating security, management, functionality, VM control, and several other network functions. It, therefore, offers customers end-to-end consistency across network experience and operations.  Virtual networks are programmatically provisioned and managed independently of the underlying hardware.  The result is a cost-effective business strategy which eliminates the need for change within your organisation’s physical network. Updates are delivered remotely and rapidly through automation. 

Cisco ACI  

Cisco ACI (Application Centric Infrastructure) allows applications to define the network infrastructure, one of the most vital aspects of SDN, creating closer integration between the physical and virtual aspects at a high level. Centralised management is carried out by the Cisco application policy infrastructure controller (APIC). The ACI architecture simplifies, optimises and accelerates the application deployment lifecycle, encompassing network services such as routing, switching, load balance and security. 

Our verdict

Achilles Georginis, specialist consultant with Glocomms, comments: "Working with the top 10% of senior network and data centre engineers on multiple projects – especially with fortune 500 companies like IBM, I understand that these two solutions should be both adopted and implemented by companies who want to either provide top-level service to their customers or to upgrade the data centre for in-house purposes. The benefits of SDN are more than enough to justify the high cost. Investing in SDN is the future and why not benefit from the two primary solutions to create a competitive advantage against your competitors.  It is important to understand that in order for such a project to succeed, you need the right professionals. These professionals will design, implement and configure both ACI and NSX but it is not a walk in the park. These skills are extremely niche to find and the cost is quite high, however, this is an investment for the future which will generate millions of revenue for both the integrator and the end client.

For companies who struggle to purchase both solutions, it makes more sense to adopt Cisco ACI. The infrastructure will most likely be Cisco focused and changing the vendor can bring complications. Problems can arise if the engineers who will implement an NSX solution such as damage to the infrastructure equipment, delays on the delivery and implementation, increased cost and multiple other complications. Cisco’s support is very reliable and its worldwide presence provides a safer feeling of investment."

Today’s enterprises are seeking an easy to implement software solution supported by robust hardware. Uniquely in the world of technology, a combination of NSX and ACI may provide the most effective solution for your business, combining the network virtualisation capabilities of NSX with the physical networking platform of ACI, resulting in a more agile, flexible and responsive enterprise.  
In making your decision, the key is to remember that these systems are intended to make your networks simpler, not more complex.

Glocomms recruits for companies across EMEA, leveraging our consultant’s industry expertise and extensive networks to source the top industry talent to drive your business. Get in touch with a specialist consultant in the Glocomms team today. 

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