Like others in the datacenter infrastructure space, Cisco Systems has had a front-row seat to the rapid changes in enterprise tech, from the accelerating adoption of the multicloud model to the increasing decentralization of the IT environment, rippling out to the network edge.
And Cisco and other vendors in the networking sector are having to adapt to the impact of all this in their sector, with networking no longer simply the plumbing running on the inside of corporate firewall – and out to the branch office via MPLS – but being a broader connective tissue that must efficiently and securely link applications and move critical data between their far-flung points – some of which are not under direct control of the enterprise.
“What used to be contained within the four walls of our customers’ datacenter has pretty much exploded across the Internet,” Ish Limkakeng, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Cloud Networking business, tells The Next Platform. “That’s driven by a lot of things. The public cloud, colocation service providers, distributed enterprises. That is a very real thing. The cloud-native applications, containerization, all of that has driven a fundamentally different challenge for our customers, who also haven’t lost the same requirements that they had before. They’re still responsible to their business for the availability of the application and the security of the application, for the performance, and for regulation policy. But they no longer control those assets directly within their direct administrative control.”
Complicating an already complex situation is that enterprises are bringing new sets of requirements, such as sustainability, spreading workloads and assets across multiple clouds with more still residing in their central datacenters, Limkakeng says.
“To us, that is a cloud networking challenge,” he says. “How do you securely connect all of those assets in a consistent operating model that our customers can still deliver on all of their traditional requirements as well as any new requirements that they’re seeing?”
The company last year changed the name of its Data Center Networking business to Cloud Network to more accurately define its direction in the space. More importantly, under the direction of Todd Nightingale, the executive vice president and general manager of the Enterprise Networking and Cloud unit since 2020, Cisco has been methodically pulling together elements of its vast networking portfolio to create more of a platform approach to networking, building on what it already has in-house and collecting technologies and talent via a steady drumbeat of acquisitions.
It’s the only way to really deliver a consistent networking experience across all parts of the modern distributed IT world, Limkakeng says.
“You’re going to start to see us talk about the expansion of that platform strategy and bringing together the benefit of the cloud management and the consistent operating model with automation, with visibility, with secure connectivity and your ability to instantiate policy across this entire environment,” he says. “It’s a fundamental difference in how we think about the problem and the challenge with our customers when we talk about cloud networking. That’s the change in the focus for our business and it’s led very directly by the challenges our customers are facing and what they’re telling us.”
That talk is going to be front and center at this week’s Cisco Live 2022 event in Las Vegas. At the show, Cisco today is unveiling new initiatives to enable enterprises to more easily manage their cloud networking environments and proactively address issues before they blow up into larger problems. The company is enabling organizations to bring cloud management capabilities to their campus and branch sites by monitoring their Catalyst switches and Catalyst wireless devices via the Meraki dashboard, as seen below.
Cisco also is unveiling Nexus Cloud, a cloud-managed offering based on the vendor’s Intersight cloud operations platform and delivered as a service to more easily deploy, manage and run a cloud networking operation that reaches public and private clouds as well as the edge. Nexus Cloud will be available in the fall.
Cloud networking “is the principal challenge that our customers have with hybrid cloud,” Limkakeng says. “How do I take control of all of those assets that I used to have direct control over that distributed across the Internet? How do I do that in an automated, simple operational model that meets all of the traditional and new requirements? You’re going to see us come out with a way for our customers to have the visibility across that entire cloud networking challenge, the ability to have a very consistent operating model. You’re going to start to see us bring that together in a platform approach.”
In addition, Cisco is leaning on ThousandEyes – a network intelligence startup it bought in 2020 for about $1 billion – as it looks to build out its vision of a predictive network to enable enterprise to operate more efficiently and improve application performance. ThousandEyes WAN Insights, unveiled at Cisco Live, will proactively alert IT teams to problems and offer visibility into network health and behavior.
All this comes a week after Cisco, at the RSA Conference, rolled out Cisco+ Secure Connect Now, a cloud managed and unified secure access service edge (SASE) offering. SASE is a framework that essentially brings together software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) with cloud-native security features, such as secure web gateway (SWG), zero-trust architecture, cloud-access security broker (CASB) and firewall-as-a-service.
Predictive networks is a key focus for Cisco, which in May outlined its vision and efforts in the area by pulling together its various observability, visibility and intelligence technologies to create a predictive analytics engine. According to Cisco’s 2022 Global Networking Trends Report, 45 percent of IT professionals surveyed said responding to disruptions as the top network challenge last year.
“The future of connectivity will rely on self-healing networks that can learn, predict and plan,” Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said in a statement. “Our research for predictive networks has been tested and developed with customers, and early adopters are seeing major benefits saving them time and money.”
Observability of and visibility into enterprise cloud networks and cloud-native environments has one of several target areas in Cisco’s multi-year, multi-billion-dollar buying spree. Between August 2021 and January, the vendor acquired Epsagon, Replex, and Opsani, the latter two being software companies that Cisco said will improve its AppDynamics application performance unit. Epsagon’s expertise is in distributed tracing products for such modern environments as containers and serverless.
In the past two years, other areas represented in Cisco’s purchases include security (Kenna Security and Portshift), automation (Sedona Systems), analytics (Modcam), collaboration (IMImobile and BabbleLabs), and performance and management (Socio Labs and Dashbase). All of these are part of the platform puzzle that Cisco assembling, says Limkakeng, who came to Cisco in the company’s 2013 acquisition of application-centric infrastructure startup Insieme Networks, a Cisco-funded spin-in created to address the growing software defined networking (SDN) trend.
Cisco’s deep history in the networking space and broad product portfolio give the company advantages over competitors that also are adapting to the new IT environment, he says.
“This is a cloud networking problem because it’s fundamentally that,” Limkakeng says. “These assets are across all of these locations. How do I securely network that together and give them a consistent operating model to do that? We are uniquely positioned to do that because of our breath – our breadth of customers, our breadth of assets, our ability to partner with other parts of the stack that our customers need us to work with. It isn’t about trying to bring an on-prem model everywhere else. There’s a reason this hybrid cloud is taking off, so we have to preserve the value, the elasticity, the self-service. But you also have to give your customers the ability to still meet their requirements and that control question.”