When you think “enterprise networking,” the company that undoubtedly springs to mind for most people is Cisco Systems. With the majority of the world’s internet traffic running via Cisco core networks, it’s truly a global force to be reckoned with—for that reason, I follow the company very closely and am always looking forward to hearing what new products it’s working on.
The big news from the past year was the change in leadership, with new CEO Chuck Robbins really coming into his own, and doubling down on software and services. Along with that, Cisco has done a lot of good work on their image with the rebranding campaign launched last year and it kept investing in corporate social responsibility
. At the end of the day, however, Cisco is a tech company and I’m a tech analyst—I’ve been looking forward to seeing what new tech offerings Cisco brings to the table, along with the new leadership and brand. Today that wait ended, with Cisco’s unveiling of its new “intent-based networking solutions”, which the company is heralding as a significant breakthrough in the realm of enterprise networking. Essentially, Cisco has married its best-in-class enterprise networking with powerful machine learning, transforming the traditional hardware-centric approach to networking into a more software driven one.
The problem with today’s networks
Before I dive into the announcements, I thought it important to highlight why this is important to businesses. Net-net, networks are holding businesses back as most enterprise networks are complex, rigid, hard to change and slow to provision, hard-coded and downright slow to change any kind of security defenses. All this matters because the network touches everything- customers, every app and every interaction, and if you are trying to significantly increase revenue or cut costs or attack any kind of meaningful digital transformation project, the legacy network is likely standing in your way.
Cisco focused on intent, context, and intuition
Cisco Systems says the three main differentiators with these new network solutions are intent, context
. Intent makes it possible to cut out all the traditional, time-consuming processes in favor of automation. With the advent of IoT and the proliferation of millions of devices, networks simply must continue to automate—traditional IT just won’t be able to keep up the speed. Next, context—data interpretation is worthless, if it isn’t being interpreted within the right context. Cisco claims that their new network does just that, allowing the company to speed up operations, better secure infrastructure, and tailor experiences to its customers.
Lastly, intuition—with Cisco being the global leader in networking, it has a vast amount of data at its fingertips. With these new machine learning capabilities, Cisco is seeking to finally utilize this wealth of data to drive insights and business for customers.
The meat and potatoes
To accomplish this trifecta of goals, Cisco Systems is releasing a sizable suite of new software and hardware under the umbrella of the Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA for short). Cisco says these new offerings are all designed to work together in concert, to usher in this “new era of networking”. Cisco announced its new DNA Center, a dashboard meant to give IT teams a centralized management solution for provisioning, policy, assurance, and design—all with an intent-based methodology. Another new feature is Software-Defined (SD) Access, which functions to automate some of the tedious, day-to-day network tasks like provisioning, configuration, and troubleshooting. Cisco is claiming that tests have shown dramatic results in productivity—the time for network provisioning has purportedly been cut down by 67%, and issue resolution has been improved by up to 80%.
Cisco also announced its new Network Data Platform, which performs machine learning analytics to categorize and correlate network data and then derive actionable insights from it. Results are then delivered to customers through the DNA Center Assurance service mentioned earlier. Cisco claims these analytics will allow the network to predict issues before they even occur, which could be a real game-changer. While these new features bring crucial improvements to the table, I see this as being one of the big cornerstones of this new push.
Cisco is also beefing up its cybersecurity, with new Encrypted Traffic Analytics. Using Cisco’s Talos machine learning capabilities to analyze cyber-traffic, Cisco says it can pick out threats that are hidden within encrypted traffic—an increasingly used obfuscation method by cybercriminals. The technology does not even require decryption to detect these threats, which is important because otherwise it run into serious data privacy issues. It can be a delicate dance finding the balance between security and privacy, but Cisco seems to have got this one figured out. Cisco is claiming 99% accuracy of encrypted threat detection—which I don’t have to tell you is really good. Cisco has a good finger on the pulse of cybersecurity—in fact, the company releases an annual cybersecurity report every year, which his well-regarded within the industry, even amongst its competitors (you can read more about here
, if interested). Cisco understands where security is at, and with features like Encrypted Traffic Analytics, it is doing what it can to address what it sees as growing threat trends.
As for hardware, Cisco is introducing a new family of switches—the Catalyst 9000 Switching Portfolio. Cisco says these switches are designed specifically from the software all the way down to the hardware layer, with cloud, IoT, mobility, and security in mind—switches custom-built for the digital transformation era. In addition, when customers purchase the Catalyst 9000 bundle, they will gain access to all of the new DNA software capabilities, via a subscription. This will come one of two ways—either through Cisco’s pre-bundled ONE software suites, or through piecemeal components. I think tying software subscription up together with the new Switching Portfolio is a good move—not only will it give Cisco’s customers more access to ongoing innovation, but it’s also a good way to get Cisco’s new DNA technology out in front of more people, which is critical after a launch.
On a similar note, Cisco is also launching DNA Services to help speed up and streamline the adoption of intuitive networking. Through these services, Cisco is looking to have its customers covered from every stage of adoption: advisory, implementation, and optimization. One neat little aspect to this is that Cisco’s channel partners can resell
these services to their own customers, so that they can also utilize the benefits of DNA—automation, analytics, and security. The last announcement was the release of a new DevNet DNA Developer Center. I think this will be a nice addition to Cisco’s already thriving developer ecosystem, helping people design network-powered apps to integrate within their own IT systems.
Whenever an industry leader like Cisco Systems makes a big move like this, others are likely to fall in line behind. I think intent-based networking will likely be the wave of the future—with the proliferation of devices, and the constantly expanding surface it has to cover, networking simply must get faster and smarter. It looks like Cisco might have a winner on its hands—I look forward to seeing it implemented and hearing about how customers are taking advantage of this. The only other similar announcements I have researched are those from Aruba and Apstra
, and I look forward to compare and contrast. I’ll continue to watch with interest and will be attending Cisco Live next week in Las Vegas.