Could Cisco Be One Step Closer In Delivering Its Network Intuitive Vision?

By Will Townsend - January 30, 2018

It seems like intent-based networking is on the lips of every C-level executive and IT administrator these days. It’s not necessarily a new concept—it’s just been slapped with a slick new marketing term (not unlike other technical platforms of the past, I might add). I’ve written about intent-based networking from several perspectives and you can read a prior article here, if interested. At a high level, the philosophy is aimed at capturing and translating business intent, orchestrating network policies for activation, and continuously ensuring that the network is performing to that “intended” standard. The end goal is to create a self-healing network: one that removes manual, reactive intervention and frees up IT staffers to provide more value to the core businesses that they support.

In the early summer of 2017, Cisco Systems launched its “Network. Intuitive.” strategy. I’ll admit that I was a tad skeptical at that moment. I had heard a lot of marketing speak centered around the company’s new vision, but I didn’t see a lot of depth to the announcement. Flash forward just eight months though, and the company appears to really be executing on its vision—today, Cisco announced some promising new assurance solutions for the data center, campus, and branch. Network assurance has been the missing link As previously defined, a closed-loop, intent-based networking solution must deliver the three core elements of translation, activation and assurance. Cisco has delivered on translation and activation in the past, but assurance was the missing link (if you are interested in a little more context behind network assurance, you can read my article on the subject here). With today’s announcement, however, Cisco is now delivering network assurance on three fronts:
  • Cisco Network Assurance Engine targets the data center and continuously verifies the entire network infrastructure.
  • Cisco DNA Center Assurance targets the campus and branch, delivering insights and visibility for improving the efficiency of IT staff, in support of both wired and wireless networks.
  • Cisco Meraki Wireless Health targets wireless issue resolution in distributed IT environments, improving the overall user experience.
The brain behind an intelligent network What strikes me most about the Cisco assurance announcement is the intelligence behind each of the three core solutions. The Cisco Network Assurance Engine’s assurance capabilities are based on a novel approach of mathematically modeling the network with more than 5,000 possible scenarios, derived from Cisco’s stockpile of roughly 30 years of customer insights. Cisco says this will benefit the customer by predicting the impact of network changes, proactively stemming issues with continuous verification and assuring policies align with business requirements. Given Cisco’s depth of competency in the datacenter, it’s a solid bet that the company can deliver on this front.
Cisco DNA Center Assurance provides visibility into the interaction between users and applications, giving historical insights and predictive capabilities to campus and branch network operations. With a focus on network issue isolation, replication and resolution, Cisco’s aim is to shift a network administration’s polarity from reactive break/fix to proactive value-added services for its business unit constituents. This lofty objective has the power to shift C-level mentalities about networking services. Viewed as “overhead” in the past, in the intent-based world, networking can become a strategic asset for enhancing an organization’s agility and bolstering users’ productivity.
Finally, Meraki Wireless Health is focused on improving the wireless user experience by providing greater visibility, insight, and richer analytics. With a cloud-based deployment model, the goal is to identify anomalies, automate resolution, and simplify the complexity of one of the most visible user complaints in any organization. Meraki Wireless Health will be launched later in Cisco’s financial 1Q 2018, and at which point I plan to evaluate its capabilities relative to other solutions in the market. Cisco Network Assurance Engine and DNA Center Assurance are available today. Net (working) smarter not harder I believe the age-old adage “work smarter not harder” is applicable to any situation in life, including networking. Cisco claims that IT spends an astounding 43% of its time engaged in reactive troubleshooting of network problems. Intent-based networking seeks to mitigate that time-waste with automated corrective action. True network self-healing will greatly depend on a network administrator’s comfort level with the degree of applied automation. It’s my opinion that network assurance will provide enough confidence for administrators to fully automate, but I expect it will have to ramp up over time. Let’s not forget the “Terminator” movies, and the consequences of Skynet becoming self-aware! All of that said, with Cisco’s global footprint, wide customer install-base, and comprehensive approach to network assurance, I believe the company is well-positioned to capitalize and deliver on its vision of intent-based networking.  
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Will Townsend manages the networking and security practices for Moor Insights & Strategy focused on carrier infrastructure providers, carrier services, enterprise networking and security. He brings over 30 years of technology industry experience in a variety of product, marketing, channel, business development and sales roles to his advisory position.