Latest announcements at Cisco Live Barcelona around data center, SD-WAN, security and IoT offer a balanced strategy for network innovation

A widely circulating topic of conversation for today’s business is new digital experiences. But how do organizations create experiences that provide real business value? Google returns 473 million hits for the term “digital transformation,” so there’s no shortage of viewpoints.

The challenge facing CIOs is that they are required to manage a set of variables that are constantly changing due to the pursuit of a “next-generation digital world.” To support this, there is an organization-wide scramble for enterprise IT architecture to be reinvented to underpin the realities of digital experiences.

Cisco’s answer, according to Gordon Thomson, VP, Global Enterprise Networking, is through delivering a platform, not a product: “A platform provides consistent visibility, security and control which gives an enhanced user experience.”

Software Changes the Experience

Every organization is focused on getting more from data. It is now widely considered to be one of the most important commodities in business. I’ve heard phrases like “data is the new oil” or “data is the new currency” more and more recently. This is due to businesses seeking competitive advantage through tailored experiences and the ability to provide recommendations to their customers. As such, applications are demanded anywhere and at any time.

Taking a step back, networks have long been considered the “plumbing” of infrastructure: something fundamental to operations but often not thought about until something goes wrong.  While they are not as glamorous as emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) or Blockchain, enterprise networks continue to be a necessary component of IT.

With the explosion of new technologies, enterprise networking has also been going through its own reinvention. Networks have to pivot to keep up with technology and business demand, and the benefits are now being realized by employees and customers alike.

What if networks could natively provide a level of analytics and assurance plus security and compliance? This would exponentially increase the usefulness (and attractiveness) of networks. It would give instantaneous learning – where you can look forward to spot problems before they occur and backwards to identify how problems arose. More interestingly to us, as consumers, it would provide a seamless technology end-user experience.

Cisco recently invested in innovation across their portfolio to provide this idea of a consistent platform to their customers. Their strategy? Unlocking the power of data from the network using the power of multi-purpose software. This changes the game on operating networks and makes Cisco (even more of) a game changer in IT.

From Connectivity to Productivity

Connectivity of the network is simply table stakes in the digital era. The network is the foundation and can provide value far beyond connectivity. More importantly, through integrated multi-domain architecture interconnecting every domain, there is value beyond the network itself.

Cisco looked inward to understand their current offerings and, with this year’s Cisco Live, bring to market capabilities that give a “secure and intelligent platform for digital business” as put by Oren Seliger, CIO, Southern Europe. They double-downed on a few key outcomes:

  • Taking action from data insights
  • Scalability of business through APIs
  • Managing and preventing risk

The sum of these three components very much aligns with everything discussed thus far. It’s refreshing to see Cisco providing more than traditional network devices and moving towards Intent-Based Networking (IBN): southbound automation onto the network and northbound data off the network. This is all being driven by decoupling software from the underlying hardware.

But what is meant by “northbound connectivity”? Southbound automation has been invested in heavily by organizations in recent years, and as such has become a common phrase throughout the IT industry. Yet, northbound connectivity was a new term to me. Simply put, it involves using the network to provide more than just network data. This is where we move from connectivity to productivity; from “plumbing” to a “water feature,” if you will.

This could involve wireless access points autonomously notifying central facilities systems of when more people join a meeting room to provide optimum temperature. Another example would be telepresence units identifying you through facial recognition to communicate with your mail exchange to automatically dial you into your next meeting as you arrive in the room. Now networks are also part of the digital workspace revolution.

There is Nothing Centered About Data Anymore

As announced by David Goeckeler, EVP, Networking & Security in the keynote, Cisco has developed new offerings around three core IBN areas which support the wider outcomes:

  1. Data center innovations
  2. SD-WAN and security
  3. IoT innovations

Roland Acra, SVP, Data Center Business Group, explained how they have sought to bring the benefits found in their data center capabilities such as ACI and Hyperflex to non-central locations. This has been achieved through leveraging the public cloud to design and deploy a truly global network through their “Anywhere” extensions.

Complementing this decentralization is the enhancement of Cisco’s SD-WAN. With the rapid adoption of both Viptela and Meraki, Cisco invested in taking their product to a platform by adding security features in the form of an enterprise firewall, IPS and URL filtering. Effectively, you now have a self-sufficient branch and campus estate for your “always on” workforce.

Now that applications have an enhanced backbone, Cisco turned to the edge. “There is a need for a foundation of a robust and reliable network, as without this, IoT won’t get off the ground,” was the message communicated by Liz Centoni, SVP, IoT. This effort is ultimately focused on bringing IBN to the enterprise edge through new Cisco validated designs, hardware platforms and a channel ecosystem.

Join the Network Evolution

But what does this all mean for us? Of course, in a traditional sense, this would be an IT headache. But this is all ultimately realized through taking what is BAU data packets traversing the network to simply make things work and then applying business logic to create an enhanced user experience – which is what we all want at the end of the day.

Typically, each of these Cisco core areas would be the responsibility of multiple teams within an organization. The chances are, you and your organization have considered implementing facets of ACI, SD-WAN and IoT. If there’s one recommendation that could be made, it would be to look at this holistically. This approach is key to ensuring data can be indeed decentralized rather than dysfunctional.

WWT sees transformation as the destination. Through embracing a technique of “discovering your why, defining your how and building your what,” we look to expand value at every stage. Our experienced technology advisors are dedicated to strategically working with customers in exploring transformational change. We enable fundamental innovation by delivering best-in-class solutions, with expertise of cross-technical silo integrations and delivery.

Contact us today to learn how you can implement Cisco’s newest innovations.

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