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Cisco Live 2019: 30th anniversary of customer event serves as mirror for an evolving industry

June 19 2019
by Christian Renaud, Raul Castanon-Martinez, Nancy Gohring, Mike Fratto, Al Sadowski


Introduction


Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins used the 30th anniversary Cisco Live (originally named 'Networkers') event to point out the advancements made since the days of jumper-programmed Cisco AGS routers in 1989 to the latest additions to the company's drag-and-drop intent-based networking (IBN), comprehensive security and software-defined networking offerings. The event was sweeping, an estimated 28,000 attendees were packed into the San Diego Convention Center for a week of keynotes and educational sessions to cater to each sub-genre of networking expert.

The 451 Take

Cisco delivered several key messages at this year's event; however, at their root is the shift in company posture from hardware to software. The company has a history of acquiring and organically developing software in collaboration, security, management and orchestration, and has had dalliances with IoT application analytics. These efforts have evolved into a more comprehensive set of support infrastructure in the form of application and data management and monitoring alongside a new certification track specifically for software.

Rather than focusing exclusively on hardware, or even software, the company made sure to spend equal time discussing company culture, partners and the newly unified support structure that has combined traditional break/fix (TAC) customer support with professional services. If airtime equals focus, then the focus of the company is distributed not only on engineering execution and product, but also transforming the internal culture, evolving partner posture, and how to shift from a hardware-centric support model to one focused on delivering customer outcomes.

Cisco intends to integrate the network end to end


Cisco is pushing forward with its intent-based networking by integrating its networking technologies to provide end-to-end security from IoT device or client to server and ensuring that security and quality of service are supported based on user or device policy. The integration is at the management layer – such as between Cisco DNA Center, the APIC datacenter network controller, and the SD-WAN vManage controller – mapping capabilities and network objects from one system to another and then using their respective underlying technologies to enforce the desired policies. By integrating at the management layer, Cisco ensures that each product can continue to evolve while ensuring policies are carried out end to end as required. Cisco is also bringing machine learning and artificial intelligence to the network, providing automated baselining and analysis of network events and behaviors to identify trends and perform root cause analysis. The AI engine can even generate recommendations to address problems based on the machine learning already performed. Both are still in prerelease, but customers in early field trials are expressing success, which bodes well for the new technologies.

Integrations underway across management, monitoring tools


We think Cisco has the pieces to deliver comprehensive management and monitoring to customers, but its decision to integrate bit by bit across various tools rather than unify functionality within a single tool makes it difficult for the company to articulate and deliver a full-featured proposition. We heard about integrations tying together features from Cisco DNA Center, Intersight, Cisco CloudCenter, AppDynamics and Tetration for management, monitoring and security across the network, server and application layers.

The depth and breadth of functionality across these products is quite valuable; some of the integrations and new capabilities that Cisco talked about at Cisco Live hint at what's possible. For instance, Cisco showed off machine-learning-driven anomaly-detection capabilities – with development driven by Cisco's acquisition of Perspica – in DNA Center, which has an early integration with AppDynamics in development. We heard about work on an integration where Tetration informs AppDynamics about security-related insights. Cisco should continue to build these integrations across its management and monitoring tools, and if it ultimately does so with a unified vision and unified user experience, it has the potential to bring valuable management and monitoring visibility and functionality to customers.

Service providers are key buying center for Cisco's software strategy


According to 451 Research's Voice of the Service Provider: Budgets and Spending survey, 45% of regional cloud providers, telcos, systems integrators and MSPs are reducing network budgets in their next budget cycle because of automation efforts. Cisco is positioned to help service providers with this transformation through its network automation solutions, including ACI and CloudCenter. As Cisco continues its own transformation from mainly a hardware purveyor into a software-led network management provider, it is providing the flexibility that allows service providers to support on-premises, hosted and cloud workloads regardless of whether that software is deployed on Cisco gear or generic x86 servers.

Cisco collaboration


Key announcements included a unified collaboration portfolio, bringing together Webex Calling, Messaging and Meetings. This is a major upgrade that aims to reduce friction, enabling users to easily escalate from messaging to a phone or video call without having to switch clients. In addition to Webex Calling, Webex Teams can be used with on-premises deployments of Cisco Unified Communications Manager and with Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution for private clouds. The company also announced it is expanding the reach of People Insights, an AI-enabled tool that provides users with a deeper background into the people they're meeting with. Initially launched for Webex Meetings, it will now be used by other tools in the portfolio, including its on-premises collaboration tool Jabber. These initiatives reflect ongoing efforts to provide a tightly integrated portfolio with an improved user experience and a strong focus on workflow integration. Together with an extensive market footprint, these innovations reaffirm Cisco's position as a key player in the collaboration space.

Internet of Things


The Cisco IoT strategy has shifted multiple times in the last five years; however, the current direction under SVP/GM Liz Centoni is the most aligned with the realities of Cisco's strengths in the market, culture, sales and channel. In addition to the company's hardware portfolio of industrial routers, switches and IoT gateways, Cisco has integrated previously independent management tools such as Fog Director directly into Cisco DNA Center and IBN. By absorbing IoT as 'just another application' and bolstering its data management infrastructure with segmentation, the company is playing to its strengths in technology, as well as leveraging the knowledge of its technology and channel partners. The addition of IoT certifications alongside new developer and software-centric certifications is a strong step in the right direction for the company to upskill network engineers to the new IoT realities.

Certifications


Perhaps most telling was the evolution of the company's long-standing certification programs, home to the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) designations, to include software- and development-centric certifications as part of DevNet. Cisco recognized early that the complexity of modern networks rapidly exceeds the ability for humans to manually program them and implemented IBN and offerings such as Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) to automate previously onerous command-line tasks. As such, its legion of network engineering experts will also need to adapt to a software-driven world via a new DevNet track of certifications that mirror the engineering progression from Associate to Specialist to Professional to Expert.