VMware NSX vs Cisco ACI

Written by Mo Elamin. Posted in Blog, VMWare



The age of Software Defined Networking (SDN) is here, this is often talked about as a game changing technology, is forcing two industry kingpins and former allies against each other: Cisco and VMware.

Although both companies are coming at SDN from different directions, their software defined aspirations virtually guarantee confrontation. So I thought maybe a good idea to compare and contrast their approaches.

VMware estaplished itself on the SDN market early on, with the $1.2 billion acquisition of startup Nicira mid- 2012. Nicira’s network virtualization strategy fit well into VMware’s overall product set, allowing for integration with vSphere.

Just over a year after the Nicira acquisition, VMware announced its network virtualization platform called NSX in August 2013. Enabling VMware customers who to move down the Network virtualisation path a way to do this with Vendor they trust in the virtualisation arena.

VMware’s NSX product moves much of networking to hypervisor-level code, reducing the role of the network to an IP underlay. Also the number of vendors who supports VMware NSX is vast, including Checkpoint, F5, Arista Networks.


Network giant Cisco was slow to the SDN revolution, maybe because it has the most to lose from the arrival of SDN given the technology promises, of removing the necessity for smart packet handling hardware and centralising everything within controllers.

In fact, Cisco’s SDN strategy had been muddy for almost two years. Although the company rolled out various products and initiatives under an SDN umbrella, there was nothing that felt like a cohesive strategy that customers could get a hold of – until now.

Most recently they announced Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), Cisco acquired Insieme Networks, which it funded as a “spin-in” startup, Cisco has unleashed a full-court press to get its ACI message to the masses.

Application Centric Infrastructure embraces hardware and consists of three key parts: Cisco’s new Nexus 9000 or 9300 switches, a policy model and an application policy infrastructure controller (APIC).

The network’s application-aware policy model is the foundation of security within Application Centric Infrastructure. It essentially “dictates what can talk to what on this network — it all gets enforced in hardware at the edge.


NSX and ACI are rather different. On the one hand, NSX touts rich virtual switch functionality, abstracting the network using a controller and overlays. On the other, ACI melds both hardware and software into a policy-driven network infrastructure built around the needs of specific applications.

Both approaches will impact IT operations. Are these solutions and SDN in general worth exploring? Yes. NSX and ACI are evidence that software defined networking is real, However VMware has the upper hand since it’s NSX solution is already available on GA and they have over 100 paying customers. (Real enough)…

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