Monday, April 15, 2024

Cisco Takes Big Step Toward The Smart Network

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Given that the word “Smart” is being applied to way too many things now, I like that Cisco is calling their latest effort Cisco DNA Center Assurance, (one of three big recent announcements) rather than “Smart” something.  However, this is effectively what Cisco announced: an offering that vastly improves the intelligence of the network and vastly reduces the amount of labor needed to manage it.  

Like most existing and emerging Smart systems, Cisco’s solution pulls from a variety of data resources to create a detailed running virtual picture of the network, devices, applications, and users.  I think this is only the beginning of what could evolve into a powerful AI tool, not only supporting aggressive management but aggressive network defense for hostile actors.   Let me explain. 

Cisco DNA Center Assurance

Companies live and die these days on network operations.  We have heavily moved to aggressive redundancies with hardware and cloud services, making problems with servers and storage far less likely to be catastrophic. But Networks are what holds all this stuff together and it does you no good if, during a failover the network cannot or will not handle the related load.  

Aging networks in older plants are particularly problematic because you can end up with spot outages or performance degradation from water intrusion into conduit, old or degrading wiring, fluctuations in power delivery, and bad past practices that existed when the network was installed. 

The result is often a network management team that is understaffed and overwhelmed.  This represents a very high value to IT management which is often missioned to increase services at the same time they are being asked to reduce costs. So, a technology that allows the unit to manage more efficiently frees up resources to increase services and, because the solution solves network problems very quickly it both reduces costs and increases the firm’s productivity.

Key components of the solution are a 36—degree contextual graph visually highlighting the network and highlighting potential problems and helps prioritize resolution.  A kind of network Time Machine that lets the administrative staff go back up to 14 days; they can analyze a past issue, craft a solution, or effectively move forward in time through emulation to proactively address problems associated with expected future network loads and changes.  And finally, using the system’s analytical capability, give detailed direction on how to fix problems in real time using a knowledge base having 30 years of Cisco best practices.  

This last takes us to what we used to call an Expert System but, I believe, the future will be far smarter.  

Looking Ahead To AI

Given we have all the fundamental aspects of a Deep Learning system, this would logically evolve into a full AI system.  We have the massive data collection capability of multiple data sources for real time analytics, we have the historical database of Cisco best practices, and we have the existing centralized capability for analysis and remediation.  All we would need is some kind of AI engine to take these various data streams and repositories to come up with real time decisions and automatically apply them at machine speed. 

I mentioned that this was one of three recent announcements. The others are Cisco Network Assurance Engine, and Cisco Meraki Wireless health.  Alone, Cisco DNA Center Assurance is powerful, but were it blended with the other solutions they should give an unprecedented foundation for a future AI solution. 

Given much of the heavy lifting is done I would expect this advancement to come surprisingly soon and the good news is that it would upgrade nicely, given you are only adding intelligence not data capture and indexing.  Much of the pain of implementing an AI is training the thing, but with the data capture and repositories in place, most of the related work is already done. This gives those that had already implemented this first-generation system a considerable time-to-production advantage.  

Wrapping Up

This is what often causes a company in Cisco’s class to stand out.  They can step in and comprehensively solve a very complex problem far more completely than a smaller point vendor might.  This capability allows them to move on to large problems like total network assurance with a solution that it viable out of the box.  

I expect Cisco’s DNA Center Assurance will be well received particularly in Cisco accounts, but I also expect that the expected coming advancements for this platform to be even more compelling. 

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