Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) Architecture: An Answer to Software-Defined Networking


Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) is a software-defined networking (SDN) solution designed for data centers. Cisco ACI allows network infrastructure to be defined based upon network policies – simplifying, optimizing, and accelerating the application deployment lifecycle. It is designed to help organizations manage complex environments by delivering network automation—increasing operational efficiencies. Organizations use Cisco ACI to improve security for on-premises, private cloud, public clouds, and data centers.

Cisco ACI integrates software and hardware; the hardware for Cisco ACI is based on the Cisco Nexus 9000 family of switches; and the software and integration points that include: Additional Data Center Pod, Data Center Policy Engine, and Non-Directly Attached Virtual and Physical Leaf Switches.

Cisco ACI utilizes a declarative control system where end users can specify what they want the end result to be and the network devices interpret it and do what they need to return that result in regards to application policy infrastructure. ACI in the data center is a holistic architecture with centralized automation and policy-driven application profiles that apply to the ACI fabric. Application Centric Infrastructure delivers software flexibility with the scalability of hardware performance.


To keep up with the massive influx of data and the increased demands on the network for speed and agility, networking professionals are learning to broker, connect, build, and govern their networks not only in the data center, but also across a vast multicloud landscape.

Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (Cisco ACI) was built to simplify the IT infrastructure and operations by automating the network, providing pervasive security, and, if required, accelerate businesses to move to a multi-cloud environment.

With Cisco ACI, customers can manage complexity, maximize business benefits, and deploy workloads in any location, small and large, on-premises and remote, in private and public clouds, satellite data centers, and 5G-enabled telecom edges.

With Cisco ACI, you can build a better network anywhere.

Cisco ACI enables organizations to easily create a software-defined data center, which provides several benefits, including:

Flexibility: With a SDN solution like Cisco ACI, all of an organization’s network infrastructure is implemented as code. This makes it easy to update configurations to meet evolving business needs.

Consistent Infrastructure: Cisco ACI abstracts away the details of the underlying infrastructure. This makes it easier to design and configure network environments.

Automation and Orchestration: Cisco ACI makes heavy use of automation to develop network infrastructure based on network policies. This makes changes easy to make and increases scalability.

Support for Hybrid Environments: Cisco ACI supports both on-prem and cloud-based infrastructure, making it possible to deploy ACI environments across multiple different environments.

Augmenting Cisco ACI Security with Check Point

Cisco ACI provides a number of built-in security solutions. A partnership with Check Point enhances these protections to provide advanced threat prevention for ACI environments.


Cisco ACI is an SDN solution that defines its network infrastructure based upon network policies. To make this possible, Cisco has created the ACI Fabric OS, which is run by all systems within the ACI network. This shared OS makes it possible for the various switches within the ACI network to translate policies into infrastructure designs.

Cisco ACI consists of the following architectural solutions:

● Cisco ACI MultiPod

● Cisco Nexus Dashboard Orchestrator

● Cisco Cloud ACI

◦ Cloud ACI extended to AWS and Microsoft Azure

◦ Cloud-only solutions

◦ Cisco Cloud APIC

◦ Cisco Cloud Service Router (CSR) 1000v Series

◦ Cisco Nexus Dashboard Orchestrator

● Cisco ACI Physical Remote Leaf

● Cisco ACI Mini Fabric

Cisco ACI MultiPod

Cisco ACI MultiPod is part of the “single APIC cluster/single domain” family of solutions; a single APIC cluster is deployed to manage all the different ACI networks that are interconnected. These separate ACI networks are called “pods,” and each of them looks like a regular two-tiers spine-leaf topology. The same APIC cluster can manage several pods, and, to increase the resiliency of the solution, the various controller nodes that make up the cluster can be deployed across different pods.

Cisco Nexus Dashboard Orchestrator

The Cisco Multi-Site Orchestrator (MSO) has become the Nexus Dashboard Orchestrator. The Nexus Dashboard Orchestrator provides a single point of provisioning for multiple Cisco ACI fabrics operating in a coordinated way. When this solution is combined with the latest networking enhancements of Cisco ACI, organizations can manage extension network elements such as Virtual Routing and Forwarding (VRF) instances, bridge domains, and subnets across multiple fabrics. It enables centralized policy and security controls across geographically distributed fabrics and very large scaled-out fabrics with automation and operations from a common point, allowing for a global cloud-scale infrastructure.

The main features of Cisco Nexus Dashboard Orchestrator include the following:

● Single point of administration for multiple Cisco ACI fabrics

● Capability to map tenants, applications, and associated networks to specific availability domains within the Cisco ACI multisite

● Change control across multiple fabrics, allowing staging, testing, and if required, clean backout of any policy changes

● Automatic configuration and management of fabric network interconnects across an IP backbone

Cisco Cloud ACI

Cisco Cloud Application Centric Infrastructure (Cisco Cloud ACI) is a comprehensive solution for simplified operations, automated network connectivity, consistent policy management, and visibility for multiple on-premises data centers and public clouds or multi-cloud environments. The solution captures business and user intents and translates them into native policy constructs for applications deployed across various cloud environments. It uses a holistic approach to enable application availability and segmentation for bare-metal, virtualized, containerized, or microservices-based applications deployed across multiple cloud domains. The common policy and operating model drastically reduces the cost and complexity of managing multi-cloud deployments. It provides a single management console to configure, monitor, and operate multiple disjoint environments spread across multiple clouds. Cisco Cloud ACI is available on AWS and Microsoft Azure; future availability for Google Cloud has been announced.


Checkpoint. (n.d.). What is Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) Security.

Cisco. (2021). Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure Solution Overview.

Cisco. (2019). Cisco Cloud Application Centric Infrastructure on AWS. Cisco on AWS.

ScienceLogic. (n.d.). What is Cisco ACI?.

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