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Cisco network architecture targets CIOs. Will they buy it?

Cisco network architecture now has a new layer for the multi-cloud age and the vendor wants CIOs to know about it.

Technology architectures, sometimes derided as “marketectures,” have been around for ages. IBM was famous for them in the 1970s and 1980s, pushing Micro Channel Architecture, Systems Network Architecture and Systems Application Architecture, to name a few.

Cisco is hardly a stranger to architecture and can point to Digital Network Architecture (DNA), Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI) architecture and intent-based architecture as its current examples.

Architectures tend to surface among large IT vendors with diverse product lines that have sometimes been assembled via acquisition. The architecture provides the vendor with a way to discuss its offerings as a unified portfolio and provides some assurance to customers that its varied product sets can work together or will integrate with each other down the road. Architectures can also create market differentiation — IBM’s Micro Channel Architecture, for example, is aimed to make IBM’s PC stand out among a growing array of PC clones.

CIO challenges

For the latest Cisco network architecture, which the company has dubbed multi-domain architecture, the motivation seems to span both goals: unify the product line and differentiate itself from rivals. David Goeckeler, Cisco executive vice president and general manager, networking and security business, outlined multi-domain architecture at the recently concluded Cisco Partner Summit 2018. Although his audience was mainly channel partners, his message also targeted CIOs.

David Goeckeler

According to Goeckeler, CIOs are expanding to the cloud, tapping SaaS offerings and developing their own cloud-native applications to provide a “next-generation” digital experience.

“Every CIO is under pressure to deliver that new experience to their users,” he said.

Those experiences come from applications that enterprises deliver through multiple networking domains: in-house and outsourced data centers, public cloud, private clouds and SaaS offerings. There are also campus networking and branch networking domains, Goeckeler noted.

The task for CIOs is to manage those domains while also keeping pace with dynamic elements that populate, or interact with, the IT infrastructure stack: devices, applications, data and users.

“CIOs are required to manage a set of variables that are changing constantly,” Goeckeler said. “Networks we built 30 years ago are not geared to that environment.”

Cisco network architecture: Spanning domains

The latest twist on Cisco network architecture aims to help CIOs manage varied, multi-cloud infrastructures and enable them to connect any user, on any device and in any network, Goeckeler said.

But the problem with IT infrastructure is that organizations have been treating the different domains, including security, as independent parts of the network, he added. Cisco’s plan for multi-domain architecture is to interconnect all those domains while integrating security into the architecture, instead of tacking it on as an afterthought. Software-defined networking is shaping this architecture, which Goeckeler referred to as “one big software system.”

CIOs can think of this multi-domain approach as an architecture that spans other Cisco architectures.

“We are now beginning to integrate DNA (campus) and ACI (data center) together through common policies that can map across these domains,” Goeckeler wrote in a recent Cisco blog post.

Recent product launches also contribute to the multi-domain architecture approach. Cisco, for example, recently integrated security applications into its SD-WAN platform.

“Building this architecture is game changing for our customers and is the biggest opportunity we have seen in a very long time in the networking business,” Goeckeler said, speaking at Cisco Partner Summit 2018.

The bid to reinvent the Cisco network architecture across multiple domains is a development that bears watching. The question for CIOs is whether Cisco’s end-to-end architecture fits into their plans or whether a multi-vendor approach, in which the CIO takes responsibility for the overarching plan, makes better sense.

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