For Cisco, intent-based networking heralds future tech demands

At Cisco Live Europe in Barcelona, Cisco has recommitted to its vision for intent-based networking, announcing new features as it builds a network it believes will be the enterprise platform of choice in years to come

By the early years of the 2020s, Dubai hopes to have introduced the world’s first autonomous drone taxi service – making the longed-for flying car a practical reality for its citizens. By the mid-2020s, advances in display technology will be close to rendering the smartphone obsolete.

Two years beyond that, in 2027, we might be able to send text messages by thinking. Looking further ahead, into the 2040s and 2050s, the telecoms and networking industry may begin to be disrupted by something close to telepathy.

These were just a few of the predictions made by Rowan Trollope, Cisco technologist, futurologist, and senior vice-president and general manager, in a star-gazing keynote on the opening morning of the annual Cisco Live Europe show, taking place this year in Barcelona.

Key to Trollope’s thesis, and much of the research and development work taking place at Cisco in recent years, is that whether or not future innovation is close to reality, somewhere in the pipeline, or merely fantasy, it will need the network infrastructure to support its power and potential.

The idea is that the network needed to run the technology of the future – especially once the internet of things (IoT) becomes truly pervasive – will quite simply be unmanageable at a human scale, and machines will have to step in in some capacity.

On the opening morning of Cisco Live Europe, Cisco refined its vision for the future of networking, committing to its Intent-based networking (IBN) strategy with the announcement of a swathe of new features and offerings, including predictive analytics and assurance, to create “self-driving” networks for digital businesses.

Although the core concept of IBN – using machine learning and advanced analytics to build an autonomous network that acts based on the intent of its human managers – has been theory for some time, up until recently it was essentially confined to the laboratory.

Read more about intent-based networking

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Cisco – which has long considered itself a market-maker when it comes to new networking concepts – announced its first foray into the world of IBN in the summer of 2017.

It has now taken another step along the pathway to network autonomy with the delivery of an end-to-end IBN portfolio, spanning datacentre, campus, branch and edge, with mathematical modelling and contextual insights that the supplier said will begin to make IBN a reality in the enterprise.

“We’re heading into an age of intelligence from a technology perspective, driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning,” said Trollope. “AI and machine learning underpin many of the innovations you’ve seen from us. That’s what’s powering that stuff and that’s what’ll continue to power that stuff.”

In Cisco’s parlance, this future network is described as a “secure, intelligent platform for digital business”. It will anticipate operational issues, stop security threats, and continuously learn, adapt and protect. Cisco claims its expanded IBN portfolio heralds a fundamental shift away from traditional manual network management models by capturing and translating intent into fully-formed network policy and cascading that across the enterprise infrastructure.

The three products launched at Cisco Live! are: Cisco Network Assurance Engine for datacentres, which will use continuous verification of the entire network to keep enterprises up and running even when the network changes dynamically; Cisco DNA Centre Assurance for campus and branch networks, bringing greater levels of insight and visibility to ease the cost and time burden that IT departments spend troubleshooting wired and wireless environments; and Cisco Meraki Wireless Health for distributed IT operations, which will use rich analytics and previously unseen insights to remediate Wi-Fi specific issues.

A total of 150 Cisco customers out of 1,100 who have deployed the recently announced Catalyst 9000 switch series on which DNA Centre Assurance will run have already been test-driving the assurance technology.

Expanding datacentre capacity

Jan Holzmann, team lead for datacentre network operations at German engineering giant Bosch, said: “We are constantly bringing on new applications and expanding our datacentre capacity as we expand our business. The Cisco Network Assurance Engine helps enable a new level of quality for our application migrations.

“With a detailed understanding of the policy model and proactive verification of all changes, Cisco Network Assurance Engine can help us greatly reduce the risk of production outages and accelerate our timelines,” said Holzmann.

“As a cloud services provider, our business depends on network availability and delivering on customer SLAs. We are always looking for modern technologies to manage our multiple datacentres and remain an industry leader.

Cisco Network Assurance Engine’s approach of ‘always on assurance’ for our network and services will make our operating model more proactive and help enable us to remain as the best-in-class service provider to our customers,” said Erik Sohlman, chief technology officer at cloud provider Axians Nordic.

West Corporation director of network engineering, Tania Mazza, said she saw the Network Assurance Engine as a means to “achieve higher levels of [network] automation with increased certainty, allowing us to confidently move at a faster pace”.

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