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Cisco network as a service for hybrid clouds on the horizon

Cisco's first network-as-a-service product will deliver hybrid cloud infrastructure. The company plans to start selling the NaaS offering and an all-in-one SASE product this year.

Cisco has launched its network-as-a-service strategy with the introduction of Cisco Plus. The latest offering lets customers order compute, storage and networking for a specific scenario and then pay for it by the month based on usage.

For several years, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins and other executives have said the company would eventually sell all its hardware and software as a service. Cisco Plus, unveiled Tuesday at Cisco Live, fulfills that promise.

Cisco's Network-as-a-service vision would let customers hand off many of the routine network management tasks to Cisco or one of its partners. They would be responsible for keeping the core systems running. At the same time, IT departments would focus on customizing the technology for the specific needs of their organizations.

However, to meet their contractual obligations, the service provider would need tools to monitor, troubleshoot and fix problems remotely. In essence, networks would have to become more self-operating than they are today.

"They're not there yet," said Lee Doyle, an analyst at Doyle Research. "To make this go, you've got to revolutionize how enterprise networks are deployed and operated."

Nevertheless, Cisco said it's ready to launch its first as-a-service offering in the middle of the year. The Cisco Plus Hybrid Cloud would encompass Cisco's entire data center computing, networking and storage portfolio. The available technology would also include third-party storage and software.

Cisco Plus Hybrid Cloud NaaS
Companies can subscribe to the Cisco Plus Hybrid Cloud starting mid-year.

Cisco did not release many details before the start of Cisco Live. However, Cisco Plus Hybrid Cloud would include the Intersight infrastructure management software, the Nexus Dashboard management console and the Unified Computing System.

The company said it would accept any usage commitment for Cisco Plus products from 0 to 100% with order delivery within 14 days. The company planned to make Cisco Plus Hybrid Cloud available as a limited release in the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

This year, Cisco planned to launch a self-service portal called the Cisco Plus Experience to let customers or partners track usage of the company's as-a-service portfolio.

Analysts are unsure whether companies would reduce IT costs overall by subscribing to hardware and software as a service rather than buying it. But adopting the former would bring dramatic changes to IT departments.

"It's a potential seminal change to the enterprise networking industry," Doyle said. "It's more than just a business model change."

Companies likely to switch are those outfitting a new facility or upgrading old infrastructure, which usually occurs every five to seven years, said IDC analyst Rohit Mehra. Companies with lean IT operations might get an efficiency boost by tossing mundane networking chores to Cisco while holding on to security policy management.

There is also the benefit of sharing with the vendor the responsibility for fixing problems that arise during day-to-day IT operations, Mehra said. "[They're] equally responsible for delivering on the IT outcomes and business outcomes that the network will ultimately deliver."

Cisco offers some hardware and software by subscription today. Examples include its Meraki wireless LAN and the latest campus infrastructure, consisting of the Catalyst 9000 Series of switches and the DNA Center network management console.

The as-a-service technology trend Cisco is following stems from the success of AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. Companies have reduced their private data centers' size by deploying business applications on the cloud providers' infrastructure. As a result, enterprises have grown accustomed to subscribing to technology and are willing to do more of it.

"Paying [only] for what you need is what we see customers looking for," Mehra said.

Whether the as-a-service model would lead to fewer network administrators is not clear. However, many would get pushed into jobs requiring DevOps tools, methods and techniques to program infrastructure to deliver business application services faster and efficiently.

"The landscape is going to change in the next couple of years with similar solutions [to Cisco's] coming to market," said Mehra. "

In addition to its NaaS strategy, Cisco introduced a Secure Access Service Edge offering comprising all its SASE products. SASE is an architectural model that bundles network and security-as-a-service functions together and delivers them as a cloud service.

Cisco's SASE products include its Viptela or Meraki software-defined WAN, the Duo network access technology, the AnyConnect VPN software, and the ThousandEyes internet and cloud intelligence platform.

Antone Gonsalves is the news director for the Networking Media Group. He has deep and wide experience in tech journalism. Since the mid-1990s, he has worked for UBM's InformationWeek, TechWeb and Computer Reseller News. He has also written for Ziff Davis' PC Week, IDG's CSOonline and IBTMedia's CruxialCIO, and rounded all of that out by covering startups for Bloomberg News. He started his journalism career at United Press International, working as a reporter and editor in California, Texas, Kansas and Florida. He can be found on Twitter at @AntoneG.

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