This morning, we are pleased to host Bill Kleyman, VP Strategy & Innovation, at MTM Technologies, here on the Citrix blogs. 

In the IT world, we’ve seen so much change with cloud, IT services, the modern consumer, our market and the business landscape, in general. We’re experiencing growth around digital tools, IoT and new types of cloud delivery models. In observing these trends and seeing customers across all verticals grow and mature, something very clear is apparent when it comes to the cloud. Between now and 2020, almost everything can change.

The pace of evolution is staggering. Organizations are spending increasingly larger portions of their budgets to support growing business initiatives. Gartner recently pointed out that worldwide IT spending is forecast to total $3.54 trillion dollars in 2016, and increase over 2015. Further, spending on data center systems is projected to reach $75 billion in 2016, a three percent increase from 2015. Another Gartner study shows how alternative consumption models to traditional on-premises licenses are accounting for more than 50 percent of new software implementations; these include SaaS, hosted license, on-premises subscriptions and even open source solutions.

Companies, both large and small, are seeing cloud – as well as the technologies supporting the modern data center – as a direct enabler for their strategic goals. At the top, CIOs and business leaders see the very real benefits of leveraging technology as an enablement tool for their uses and business practices. In fact, a recent WSJ article points out that CIOs are knitting together a new IT architecture that comprises the latest in public cloud services with the best of their own private data centers and partially shared tech resources. Demand for the so-called hybrid cloud is growing at a compound rate of 27%, far outstripping growth of the overall IT market, according to researcher MarketsandMarkets.

The Network is the Differentiator

In looking at today’s trends, it’s important to understand some of the big drivers behind hybrid cloud and the digitization of the modern data center. At the core of the business and IT landscape lies the network. The big difference is that today’s network architectures are no longer linear paths to sharing bits of data. Rather, these are intelligent data center components that make big business and IT decisions based on context and network awareness. These systems support today’s digital trends, virtual desktops and applications, and help deliver rich, next-generation content.

However, for networking to be the differentiator, there has to be an engine that could power the network of the future. This is where SDN comes into play.

With SDN, administrators are able to control and manage – at a very high level – an entire network through the abstraction of higher-level functionality. This is accomplished by abstracting the layer that manages the way traffic is distributed and where it’s being sent;  this is the control plane. The underlying system helps control traffic destination; this is the data plane. To make SDN work, there has to be some kind of communication between both the control and data plane – even though management is abstracted.

The concept with SDN is to create a dynamic and highly programmable network infrastructure which is capable of controlling underlying infrastructure components while still being abstracted from applications and network services. This allows for better programmability across the all networking layers, better agility, central management and an open-standards architecture. This means that SDN can drastically simplify network design by allowing administrators to aggregate physical resources, point them to an abstracted management layer (SDN) and create intelligent, programmatically configured, controls around the entire network.

With this in mind, it’s important to see that this is far beyond being just another “technology trend.” There are big business initiatives supporting the technology as well. Very recently, IDC said that the worldwide software-defined networking (SDN) market, which is comprised of physical network infrastructure, virtualization/control software, SDN applications (including network and security services), and professional services, will have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 53.9% from 2014 to 2020 and will be worth nearly $12.5 billion in 2020.

Their market study went on to say that software-defined networking continues to gain market traction as an innovative architectural model capable of enabling automated provisioning, network virtualization and network programmability for datacenters at cloud-providers and enterprise networks.

Finally, IDC points out that although SDN initially found favor in hyperscale datacenters and at large-scale cloud service providers, it is winning adoption in a growing number of enterprise datacenters across a broad range of vertical markets.

Bridging Cloud, Your Network, and the Business: Adopting Cisco ACI & NetScaler

We know that SDN is impacting the data center and major IT operations. We know that there is still growth around virtualization and content delivery technologies.

Throughout this conversation, we see Cisco emerge as the data center and networking leader in the market. We also see how Citrix defines next-generation content delivery with market leading application, desktop and mobile content controls. Most of all, the NetScaler architecture helps support physical, virtual, and even containerized use-cases within the data center. Remember, Citrix NetScaler isn’t just a load-balancing application controller; this technology is a direct data center network integration point supporting major business initiatives.

So, how do you bridge these two technologies together? How do you create one of the most powerful data center control and content delivery architecture currently on the market? You bridge Cisco and NetScaler to enable the digital data center.

At a very high-level, ACI creates tight integration between physical and virtual elements and an open ecosystem model, which spans application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), hardware and software. This unique approach uses a common policy-based operating model across ACI-ready network and security elements (computing, storage in future), overcoming IT silos and drastically reducing costs and complexity.

NetScaler acts as an application delivery controller capable of advanced load-balancing, application security, device/user interrogation, data control, and much more. It also acts as an integration point into ACI and APIC.

To really understand the process, it’s important to see how this all actually works. NetScaler is integrated into the Cisco APIC via a NetScaler Device Package. The Cisco APIC controller imports this package via REST APIs. From there, Cisco APIC can perform detailed, feature-level, configurations of NetScaler functions.

The amazing part is that numerous NetScaler functions can be controlled at the Cisco APIC layer. And, these functions can be tied in with specific applications and services. Specifically, you can control:

• Application Firewalls
• Cache Redirection
• Compression
• Content Switching
• Global Server Load Balancing (GSLB)
• SSL Offload
• and more …

When you combine NetScaler with Cisco ACI, you design a policy-based automation framework which enables the APIC to dynamically provision and configure resources according to application requirements. When this integration happens, core services such as firewalls and Layer 4 through 7 switches can be consumed by applications and made ready to use in a single automated step.

In short, you help create automated processes capable of adding, removing, and even re-ordering services tied to applications, services, desktops, and even cloud components. This level of integration not only helps keep an environment agile; it also allows business to respond faster to very evolving market demands.

Understanding the Big Benefits and Trying the Technology

In working with this level of integration, you’re going to experience big IT and business benefits. Remember, you are fundamentally simplifying your next-generation content management ecosystem to support new business strategies. So, where does the integration of ACI and NetScaler really help?

Reduction of complexity and fragmentation. The integration of ACI/APIC and NetScaler technologies helps create a tightly coupled service delivery architecture spanning data center and content delivery controllers. This single point of management removes duplicate efforts around application, desktops and services management. Your applications become intelligent tenants that can scale and grow while still being directly aligned with data center networking resources.

Support for new security services. From ACI – you can design specific application firewall services which pass through the NetScaler and help secure the application. Now, instead of going through multiple touch points – you can create an architecture capable of securing critical resources all from the Cisco ACI/APIC layer. Basically, you can create full lifecycle services to ensure application health and security. Not only are you able to define Layer 4-7 services, you can also granularly control multi-tenant application and virtual environment ecosystems for complete visibility and management.

Creation of a more agile business. Your ability to scale will define your competitive stance in the market. Instead of supporting individual apps and services, your data center is empowered to deliver enterprise services to core applications as needed. Further, you can see where your ADCs, applications and virtual services actually integrate and interact with other core data center functions. This includes things like working with an APIC Service Graph that shows load balancing, Cisco Firewall and even Citrix SSL VPN functionality. This unique offering allows for powerful service-insertion architectures which support business agility. Need to scale out new applications? No problem. The tight coupling between NetScaler and Cisco give you complete visibility into the app and the physical data center. Need to update an application setting? Easy! And it can all be done from one management console. The bottom line is that this integration helps the business respond faster to market dynamics.

Supporting new ADC and virtualization platforms. The future of the data center and cloud environment is a service-drive, virtualized, existence. Through it all, organizations and administrators are tasked with supporting new applications, advanced services, and a very mobile user. The power of Cisco ACI doesn’t only revolve around traditional NetScaler technologies. In fact, you can integrate with the VPX, MPX, SDX, and now the new containerized version of the NetScaler – CPX. Imagine being able to manage extensive micro-services being facilitated by the new NetScaler CPX. Now, we’re entering into next-gen cloud and web-scale capabilities. And, the only way to truly leverage these functions is to have a data center that can easily integrate with networking and content delivery technologies. Right now, Cisco and NetScaler are some of the first to work with this real-world containerization (CPX) and data center network integration (ACI).

Moving forward, these types of technologies absolutely help create a powerful bridge between your data center, the content your trying to deliver and the network layer. Most of all, you’re creating an ecosystem that helps support changing business models.

With all of this in mind, your next big step is to actually try out this technology. Believe it or not, this isn’t altogether difficult to do. First of all, these are virtual technologies. You can test-drive the ACI/APIC and NetScaler integration today via a lab, working with Cisco/Citrix, or engaging with your ACI and NetScaler-ready partners.

Remember, these technologies aren’t limited to enterprise organizations. If you’re heavily virtualized and are looking at new ways to control application delivery and services, then this integration between two powerful technologies might be right for you. Ultimately, you’re creating a powerfully transparent IT layer bridging together some of the most advanced technologies on the market. Through it all, you’re still reducing complexity, supporting evolving user demands, and allowing your business to be truly agile.

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