Cisco is transitioning from closed, hardware-based networks to open, software-based connectivity. But don't worry -- it's still selling hardware.

Mitch Wagner, Executive Editor, Light Reading

March 2, 2016

6 Min Read
Cisco Rewrites Enterprise Networking DNA in 'Monumental Shift'

SAN DIEGO -- Cisco is gutting and renovating its enterprise networking architecture, with a strong focus on cloud, mobility and analytics, as it also brings NFV to the enterprise.

"For us, this is a monumental shift in the way that Cisco is going to deliver networks to the enterprise, and the way our customers are going to consume networks," Prashanth Shenoy, senior director of enterprise networks for Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), tells Light Reading.

To those ends, Cisco launched the Digital Network Architecture Wednesday here at its Cisco Partner Summit 2016.

DNA is an open, software-driven architecture Shenoy says. "We're known as a hardware-centric platform and closed system, with hardware and software running hand and hand for customers."

DNA changes that fundamentally. The foundation principles of DNA are virtualizing the underlying infrastructure, automating network management using analytics and moving to a cloud-based service model.

The change is driven by enterprise need to innovate, achieve faster time to market, empower their workforces and personalize customer experience, Shenoy says. Enterprises need to automate to reduce operating costs -- opex on manually configured networks can triple capex.

In other words, enterprises are driven by the same New IP transformation driving change to service providers.

DNA automation and virtualization starts with the APIC-EM Automation Platform on "Day Zero" -- installing equipment and services, Shemoy says. Cisco's Catalyst switches and wireless products will support Plug and Play installation and configurations. Cisco and its channel partners will ship equipment to customer sites, where they can be plugged in by anyone -- even someone with no technical skills -- and the hardware will automatically download configuration and installation instructions over the Internet, to boot up and configure a vLAN without manual intervention.

Cisco's IWAN wide-area network automation product, already available, automates setting up a WAN, with policies, profiles, automation, and trouble-shooting built in and automated.

The APIC-EM automation platform is new, available now. Base plug and play automation is available now, with a cloud version in controlled availability in May. The IWAN App is available now, and Easy QoS [Quality of Service] will be available later this month.

DNA also automates QoS policies.

For security, Cisco is using the StealthWatch automated tool, part of the networking giant's Lancope acquisition last year. (See Cisco Boosts Analytics, Security With Acquisitions.)

Want to know more about SDN? Visit Light Reading's dedicated SDN Architectures content channel.

For analytics, Cisco is introducing CMX Cloud, which tracks WiFi usage on the network, primarily for enterprises in industries such as retail, hospitality, healthcare, education, even some government agencies, where customers are walking around physical facilities with mobile devices. A retail enterprise, for example, can use WiFi tracking to discover what parts of a store are most popular, where customers linger, traffic patterns, and more, Shenoy says. Previously, users need to install a client on their devices, but that's no longer necessary.

These kinds of DNA analytics are extensible to smart sensors and other Internet of Things devices, Shenoy says.

"Businesses need to move from network analytics -- how is the network behaving? -- to business analytics," Shenoy says. "How are users connecting, what kinds of devices are they using, what kinds of threats are we seeing, how can I understand all of these behaviors?"

Next Page: NFV Goes Enterprise

Security is a big part of the transformation, moving from "reactive security at the edge of the network" to "security embedded in every part of the network," Shenoy says. This kind of "microsegmentation" security architecture is being followed by Cisco competitor VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) and others.

Enterprise NFV uses the same network functions virtualization technology developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) for service providers. Cisco's enterprise implementation uses a centralized orchestration platform for provisioning, managing and troubleshooting virtual and physical functions, running on Cisco's own ISR 4000, UCS, or any standard x86 platform. Cisco provides routing, firewall, WAN optimization and the platform can also run third-party VNFs.

DNA complements Cisco's two-year-old Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) platform. ACI provides data center automation, while DNA is for branch offices, the WAN and campus -- closer to the user, Shenoy says.

DNA builds on Cisco's enterprise networks controller and Ultra Service Platform for service providers announced at Mobile World Congress in February. (See Cisco Struts Virtual Mobile, 5G & Ericsson Partnership at MWC.)

Enterprise cloud is a huge driver of the need for a shift to the DNA architecture, requiring changes to network, security and performance, Shenoy says. Other drivers are mobile, Internet of Things and analytics.

While DNA is designed for the enterprise, service providers can play a big role as delivery partners, delivering DNA services as managed services, Shenoy says. Cisco will explore partnerships with service providers.

As Cisco pivots to a software-based networking model, its competitors are doing the same. Arista Networks Inc. introduced centralized management tools for its EOS switch operating system and separated software and hardware pricing last year. (See Arista Launches Network-Wide Cloud Automation and Arista Offers Software à la Carte.)

Cisco separated its software and hardware pricing 14 months ago. (See Cisco Gives Its Software Licensing a Makeover.)

Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) separated its JunOS operating system from the underlying hardware last year, and says SDN and NFV are driving its service provider and some enterprise business. (See Juniper Bets Big on White Box & NFV and Juniper Looks to NFV for Growth.)

Another Cisco competitor, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), is a late entry to data networking -- though it has roots in storage networking -- and has run an open source, software-based networking architecture from the outset. Brocade brags that it has no legacy history that it has to fear cannibalizing. (See Brocade Wants to Be Red Hat of OpenDaylight.)

VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) is also hardware-independent, with virtually no hardware products of its own, instead running its NSX SDN software networks as an overlay on top of other vendors hardware -- including Cisco's. (See Nicira Founder Casado Leaves VMware and NSX Helps Networks Cloudify – VMware.)

And a cluster of white box switch vendors are rearchitecting networks along software and virtualized lines. (See White Box Networking: It's Not About Cost.)

Cisco is king of its market though -- more than half of switch and routing revenue worldwide flows into Cisco's pockets, according to a recent analyst estimate.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes it's completely free.

You May Also Like