This article is part of our Conference Coverage: Cisco Live 2024 conference coverage and analysis

Cisco Live: AI to fuel Cisco mission to connect and protect everything

Networking giant plots future where harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and data will allow companies to connect and protect everything across a global network where data is the ultimate differentiator

Assuring the assembled audience of customers, partners and developers at the Michelob Arena in Las Vegas that priorities were driving the company’s strategy, Cisco chair and CEO Chuck Robbins kicked off Cisco Live with the promise of working with customers to maximise the business value of technology investments based on three core pillars: develop modernised infrastructures; protect against current and future threats; harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and data.

By doing this, said Robbins, the networking and IT giant would enable companies to connect and protect everything across a global area network, boosted by new products Digital Experience Assurance (DXA) and Nexus HyperFabric AI, where data would be the ultimate differentiator in the AI era. Indeed, Robbins said Cisco would provide an infrastructure to power AI; deliver not only security for AI, but also AI for security; use data to provide insights and context; and use software to unlock productivity.

He explained: “As this AI era begins, we’re very, very prepared – prepared to help [customers] navigate this as we go forward. But fundamentally, it starts with connecting and protecting everything. That’s what we have to do. We’ve been connecting everything for 40 years. It used to be a lot simpler to connect things – you controlled all the assets, you controlled all the technology. We’re going to continue to help you do it in new and different ways.

“Only Cisco can connect [and offer] you protection to provide insights across every domain. All the technology – hybrid cloud, multicloud, SaaS applications, remote users, IoT devices – and help you bring all that together and get unparalleled visibility into what's going on in your technology architecture. By doing that, it allows us to better protect and help you protect the assets you have. There’s incredible technology that’s coming in. It’s going to help you protect your environment in this hyper-distributed world [that you are] trying to navigate right now.”

For Jonathan Davidson (pictured above), executive vice-president and general manager of Cisco Networking, the new era of Digital Experience Assurance represents a fundamental change from where the industry has been for decades. Addressing Cisco Live, he said today’s network user’s experience depends on the entire digital footprint, encompassing existing infrastructure as well as the unknown infrastructure.

“For too long, we have been trying to solve problems in silos,” he said. “We had the local area network (LAN), we had the wide area network (WAN) and we have the cloud. In reality, we are all depending on one global area network for all of our digital experiences. If you can see and understand everything that is in front of you, you get to fix anything.”

To that end, Davidson announced the launch of ThousandEyes Digital Experience Assurance to shift IT operations from monitoring to action, offering functionality capable of transforming IT operations.

The reasons for making the new development centred on Cisco’s conviction that businesses are competing in a digital landscape where brand reputation, revenue and employee productivity depend on consistently delivering exceptional digital experiences to every user, everywhere, every time.

At the same time, it noted that businesses have undergone key shifts that increase reliance on unowned infrastructure and environments, introducing exponential complexity for IT and networking teams, which now face the challenge of providing exceptional digital experiences across enterprise, internet and cloud networks. 

With Digital Experience Assurance, Cisco said that by using telemetry data and AI-native technology, customers can now achieve digital resilience and transition from reactive to proactive operations by assuring user digital experience across domains for both owned and unowned environments. The product will deliver AI-native assurance capabilities across Cisco Networking, including AI radio resource management (RRM), capacity planning for SD-WAN solutions, and device profiling with AI-based signatures for the Cisco Identity Services Engine.

“We have made tremendous innovations to [ThousandEyes] to enhance it to enable us to do this Digital Experience Assurance with a global area network. What GPS and driver data do for you and your driving, whether it’s Waze or Google Maps, is give you a clearer view of the entire journey, even the parts that you do not control. Digital Experience Assurance has AI-native capabilities built directly into the platform to show you what is happening with your users and applications across this global area network,” Davidson explained.

“ThousandEyes is able to correlate layers of a network while scanning the entire global area network using advanced AI-native algorithms to evaluate all discrepancies. This includes any device that could run a container, can run a ThousandEyes agent and feed that data into ThousandEyes [such as] your phones, your tablets, your laptops, your home broadband gateways, switches and, of course, all of our routers.

We are collecting 650 billion pieces of data of measurement every single day from millions of ThousandEyes vantage points. We’re doing five billion synthetic measurements every single day. And our AI-native business intelligence is built for you and is built for business
Jonathan Davidson, Cisco Networking

“We are collecting 650 billion pieces of data of measurement every single day from millions of ThousandEyes vantage points. We’re doing five billion synthetic measurements every single day. And our AI-native business intelligence is built for you and is built for business. Without this scale of high-quality data, every other AI tool for networking is simply a toy and cannot give you what it needs and what you need. This new level of Digital Experience Assurance is a fundamental change from where the industry has been for decades.”

That said, Davidson stressed that the solution had much more to it than just AI assistants. It was instead about demystifying the global area network and transforming infrastructure operations with AI-native capabilities as, in his opinion, Digital Experience Assurance changes how business teams work, giving them time to focus on accelerating their business.

The new Nexus HyperFabric AI is said to deliver on the Cisco Networking Cloud vision to simplify networking by bringing to market an enterprise-ready, end-to-end infrastructure solution to scale generative AI workloads.

A key driver to the launch was revealed in the latest Global networking trends report which noted that in the next two years, 60% of IT leaders and professionals expect to deploy AI-enabled predictive network automation across all domains to better manage NetOps and 75% plan to deploy tools that offer end-to-end visibility via a single console into different network domains, including campus and branch, WAN, datacentre, internet, public clouds and industrial networks.

The Cisco Nexus HyperFabric AI cluster solution combines Cisco AI-native networking with Nvidia accelerated computing and AI software, and a Vast data store. It is designed to enable customers to focus on AI-driven innovation and new revenue opportunities rather than IT management. The on-premise solution features a single place to design, deploy, monitor and assure the AI pods and datacentre workloads. It guides users from design, to validated deployment, to monitoring and assurance for enterprise-ready AI infrastructure. With its cloud management capabilities, Cisco said customers could easily deploy and manage large-scale fabrics across datacentres, colocation facilities and edge sites.

Davidson also presented examples of companies that Cisco is working with that are tapping the power of AI to improve business outcomes. These included global supply chain and engineering design and manufacturing company PTC and the Royal Caribbean cruise group.

In the former case, PTC was deploying an AI-powered solution within logistics, creating a predictive digital twin of the circular service it offers. PTC faced the challenge of optimising half a million parts at 10,000 locations globally to guarantee uptime for AI algorithms to enable the company to predict uncertainties and mitigate disruptions in complex and massive supply chains. PTC believes it has now supercharged its R&D efforts with “amazing” computing capabilities and processing.

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