This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Cisco Live 2024 conference coverage and analysis

How an improved network experience enhances business

At Cisco Live 2024, leaders discussed how AI can support business objectives. Companies like CSL Behring and Room & Board improved their network experience with ThousandEyes.

In line with current trends in the technology industry, most topics of discussion at Cisco Live 2024 in Las Vegas centered on AI. Technology leaders and practitioners gathered to discuss the integration of AI in traditional infrastructure.

One such panel discussion, hosted by Sanjay Mehta, chief marketing officer at Cisco ThousandEyes, focused on how to use AI to assure digital experiences for customers.

Mehta said the steps to assure digital experience are the following:

  1. Provide visibility into the network infrastructure.
  2. Use AI and machine learning to gain insight from data.
  3. Follow closed-loop recommendations.

Organizations that prioritize network experience operate the network to drive performance that supports application experience and UX. They can then ensure the overall digital experience.

The session highlighted two companies that aimed to improve their overall digital experience: CSL Behring, a biopharmaceutical company based in King of Prussia, Pa., and Room & Board, a Minneapolis-based retail store with almost two dozen locations across the U.S. The companies said they accomplished this goal by integrating ThousandEyes in their network infrastructures.

Cisco recently updated its ThousandEyes platform with AI-powered tools that enhance visibility and enable automation across the network. Both features were necessary for David Mann, head of network services and enterprise monitoring at CSL Behring, and Mark Rodrigue, senior network engineer at Room & Board.

Rodrigue said the need to innovate came from his company's increased use of the internet. Room & Board uses the internet as both a transport network and an application host, so its network needed a tool that could offer insight into its internal operations and public internet resources, he said. Like Rodrigue, Mann said interest in ThousandEyes came from his goal to have a platform that could help his team understand current and future insights about their network.

Preoptimization challenges

CSL Behring and Room & Board implemented ThousandEyes to improve the network experience, a move Mann and Rodrigue both said was necessary to mitigate the effects of network downtime on business. They shared similar perspectives about the obstacles network outages can introduce.

Mann said a poorly optimized network can lead to instant ramifications for CSL Behring's business. Its network comprises countless devices across the infrastructure, and some customers might stop visiting CSL Behring's locations if the network doesn't run at optimal levels. Moreover, Mann said an outage on CSL Behring's network diminishes UX across the organization.

"We need to know when applications are functioning and when they're not," he said. "If our applications aren't functioning to efficient levels, things take more time. People take more time to process, manufacturing takes more time and experience levels come down."

Rodrigue shared similar sentiments. When downtime occurs on Room & Board's network, it forces administrators to spend time fixing the issue when they could work on more critical tasks instead. Rodrigue said this use case underscores the need for visibility in his network. When network professionals understand how the network functions, they can spend more time ensuring customer UX, he said.

"Being able to monitor, understand, correlate and track those experiences removes that piece of uncertainty [about the network]," Rodrigue said. "Our people can focus on building relationships, designing spaces and having enjoyable experiences with our customers."

Greater visibility improving the network experience

Mann said network visibility creates data-driven insights for his team to use to support network management and operations. When CSL Behring recently completed an acquisition, the individuals involved wanted to deploy software across the new locations.

Mann's team needed to provide the acquisition partners with information about how the newly deployed applications would run, so they added the application profile to testing agents across the locations. The profiles included reports and dashboards about the expected performance and usability of the applications in the new environments. This strategy enabled his partners to make data-driven decisions, he said.

Room & Board had a similar use case for ThousandEyes integration during its deployment of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN). Rodrigue said, when his team considered additional connectivity links for its SD-WAN architecture, such as MPLS, 4G LTE and 5G, they were uncertain about how the connectivity options would operate as transport networks.

Rodrigue's team initially deployed software agents connected to the network infrastructure to gather data and monitor its performance before the SD-WAN implementation. This process, Rodrigue said, helped his team understand various aspects of their network, such as latency requirements and potential outages. Path visualization also helped his team validate changes made in their SD-WAN.

The benefits of an improved network experience

Since the integration of ThousandEyes, the improvements in CSL Behring's and Room & Board's networks have enabled them to offer users a better network experience. In both cases, the improvements begin with the professionals who operate the networks.

Room & Board, for example, transitioned from manual tests to automated tests as part of its troubleshooting process. In the past, to troubleshoot issues with the checkout process, administrators manually added items to their cart to identify the issue. Now, Rodrigue said, his team automates this process, which monitors checkouts and alerts the network team if any issues occur.

Improvements in CSL Behring's network have also enabled the company to equip its network team with the means to better support customers. The organization has structured its dashboards similar to how its business operates. When CSL Behring's network team views its dashboards, the metrics relate to business objectives instead of showing raw data, which better equips staff with the knowledge to provide support to and communicate with customers.

Because customers can now receive support from general IT staff, issues no longer escalate to higher-skilled personnel, and network professionals can focus on more critical tasks. Before this implementation, Mann said his team used to have major incidents in the double digits each month. Now, they've reduced incidents to single-digit numbers.

"If you have a consolidated platform that everybody's utilizing, they're all getting the data that's important for them out of it," Mann said. "We're able to get to actual problems, instead of creating workarounds within the network, to hide other issues that may exist in the environment."

Deanna Darah is associate site editor for TechTarget's Networking site. She began editing and writing at TechTarget after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2021.

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