Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure or Cisco ACI is Cisco’s answer to Software-Defined Networking (SDN). In a world where tangible networks are becoming entangled with less tangible models of connectivity like cloud computing, enterprises are using tools like ACI to take control.

If you can’t stick around for the whole post, here is our list of the 5 best Cisco ACI monitoring tools:

  1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (FREE TRIAL) A network monitoring tool that can access Cisco ACI. Runs on Windows Server.
  2. NetBrain A network monitor and SDN monitoring tool that can monitor Cisco ACI and VMwareNSX environments. Runs on Windows Server.
  3. SevOne An infrastructure monitor that includes Cisco ACI supervision. Available as an appliance or as a cloud-based service.
  4. ScienceLogic SL1 AI-based systems monitor that includes Cisco ACI performance tracking. Available as a physical or virtual appliance.
  5. Zenoss Cloud-based system management service that includes the monitoring of Cisco ACI.

What is Cisco ACI? 

Cisco ACI is a software-defined networking solution that uses a network policy automation model to integrate hardware and software. ACI has been designed specifically to implement data center automation and consistency management policies in cloud or data center environments. Briefly, the ACI includes a number of core components:

  • End Point Groups
  • Application Profiles
  • Contracts
  • Filters
  • Outsides

ACI makes automatic changes to the network according to how conditions change. For instance, ACI uses a policy to determine how applications and services communicate including which groups can communicate with whom. The user has the control to manage endpoints (virtual machines) and group them together.

The key advantage of ACI is that rather than going to each device and using a command-line interface to administrate, the user can simply use APIC to manage the network and its connected services.

The SDN can be used to automate connections and tasks that administrators would usually have to do normally. For example, administrators used to have to manually configure Access Control Lists (ACLs).

ACI has two main components; Nexus 9000 switches and Application Policy Infrastructure Controllers (APICs). Nexus 9000 deals with physical switching and the APIC deals with virtual fabric configuration. The APIC configures the policy that is then used by nodes within the network. The APIC is essentially a centralized solution for managing systems and applications throughout the network.

ACI Leaf and Spine Topology

ACI uses a leaf and spine topology. In the topology, the leaf node is connected to all spine nodes in a fabric. Leaves don’t communicate with other leaves and spine switches can’t communicate with other switches. Servers, hosts, and services all connect to the leaf nodes. This layout is advantageous because it can adapt to the requirements of the modern data center environment.

The best Cisco ACI monitoring tools

Of course, the fabric management approach of Cisco ACI does raise some challenges, particularly with regards to performance monitoring.

1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (FREE TRIAL)

SolarWinds Network Performance monitor

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is a network monitoring tool that can access Cisco ACI. You can view health scores for components like APIC tenants, spines, and leaves through PerfStack Performance Analysis Dashboards.

There is also more detailed visibility into the health of Nexus switches. For example, you can view a chart on Interfaces with High Percent Utilization to see if there’s a problem with your network.

You also have access to alert systems that can alert you when the health scores of tenants endpoints, applications, or physical hardware drop below an acceptable level. The notifications system is great because it keeps you updated on changes to your environment automatically.

To help increase visibility, SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor allows you to visualize ACI relationships in Orion Maps. Orion Maps are essentially topology maps and allow you to view your ACI fabric from a geographical perspective. From here you can see how elements like APIC tenants, EPGS and application profiles connect to each other. These are color-coded so that you can easily monitor the health of these components.

If you’re looking for a Cisco ACI monitoring tool that doubles as an infrastructure monitoring platform, you can’t go wrong with SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor. The product starts at a price of $2,995 (£2,464). You can download the 30-day free trial.

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor Download 30-day FREE Trial

2. NetBrain

NetBrain

NetBrain is a network monitor and SDN monitoring tool that can monitor Cisco ACI and VMwareNSX environments. NetBrain has an auto-discovery feature that automatically identifies hybrid network infrastructure. Once your network has been discovered you can view it as a Dynamic Map. The Dynamic map shows you how all your devices connect to each other.

The visibility doesn’t stop at the surface and you can also view the performance of applications on the infrastructure you’re monitoring. You’ll be able to see what infrastructure an application relies upon in order to function.

With the diagnostic capabilities of NetBrain, you aren’t limited to running manual troubleshooting. Whenever a performance issue is detected NetBrainautomatically starts to run diagnostics to find the cause of the problem. You will be sent an alert as well to make sure that you don’t miss out on anything important.

Overall if you’re looking for Cisco ACI monitoring software that cuts straight to the point, NetBrain is an excellent choice. Features like Dynamic maps really help to make sense of abstract networks. If you want a quote for NetBrain you’ll have to contact the company directly. There is also a demo you can sign up for.

3. SevOne

SevOne screenshot

SevOne is a piece of infrastructure monitoring software that works with Cisco ACI. SevOne has ten dashboards that you can use to monitor the health and performance of Cisco ACI infrastructure. For example, you can view the health scores of endpoints and multi-cluster deployments. The platform is designed to allow you to monitor a legacy-based network alongside the SDN in one platform.

The use of SevOne complements Cisco ACI very well with respect to performance transparency. Through the dashboard, you can view the performance data of multiple APIC clusters in real-time. In addition, there are performance baselines which the program uses to send you an alert when something out of the ordinary happens.

SevOne gives you a mix of automation and control that offers an excellent SDN monitoring experience. The dashboard offers enough visibility to eliminate the opacity of Cisco ACI. In order to view the price of SevOne, you’ll have to contact the sales team directly. You can also sign up for a demo.

4. ScienceLogic SL1

Sciencelogic SL1

ScienceLogic SL1 is a network monitor with the ability to monitor Cisco ACI performance. The tool has customizable dashboards for the user to monitor ACI performance. Autodiscovery automatically discovers APICs, spines, leaves, applications, tenants, applications, EPGs, bridge domains, and more. Once these have been discovered the program collects data on Health Scores, Fault Counts, Configuration Information, and more to measure performance.

Like other top ACI monitors, ScienceLogic SL1 creates dynamic maps of your SDN so you can see how applications and services connect to each other. If a certain application is experiencing performance difficulties you’ll be able to see very easily from this perspective.

Monitoring in ScienceLogic SL1 also covers traditional networking very well. You can view metrics like network traffic and packet loss that affect the availability of your network. The ACI-centric monitoring features and general network monitoring features give you a 360-degree view of network performance.

ScienceLogic SL1 offers an ACI monitoring experience that provides all the detail you could possibly need to manage your virtual environment. However, you’ll have to contact the company directly to view a quote. You can request a demo version.

5. Zenoss

Zenoss screenshot

Zenoss Cloud is a cloud-based monitoring solution that also acts as an ACI monitor. This unified platform allows you to monitor Cisco ACI performance in real-time.

The platform monitors network health and events for ACI tenants and applications. The dependency map helps show users the structure of their virtual environment and highlights the status and logical relationships between tenants and applications.

To speed up the resolution of performance problems and events, Zenoss uses deep analytics. Deep analytics automate the diagnostic process and enable the user to find the root cause of issues much faster.

There is a list of problems ranked with additional details like Confidence, Status, Severity, Resource, Component, Event Class, Summary and more. When put together all this information helps you to keep a close eye on network events.

There are two versions of Zenoss Cloud available to purchase: Zenoss Cloud Professional and Zenoss Cloud Enterprise. The Professional version includes 40k data points per day per resource and 3 months of data retention. The Enterprise version includes 120k data points per day per resource and 15 months of data retention. You can request a demo of the product.

The SDN of this Generation 

As an SDN, Cisco ACI has helped many users to chart more abstract computing models. The policy-based philosophy of ACI has simplified the process of managing virtualized services dramatically.

The days of administrators drawing up ACLs are long gone as more companies resort to automation to manage modern networks and cloud computing environments. Despite ACI’s accomplishments, it still needs to be coupled with a performance monitor to manage service performance. All of the tools mentioned on this list are fit for that purpose.