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Cisco pledges a quicker rollout of network automation tools

Cisco tells Partner Summit attendees it will move faster to deliver the network automation tools the vendor has been slow to provide.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Cisco has promised to speed up the delivery of network automation tools that the vendor has been slow to provide.

At the Cisco Partner Summit this week, executives outlined plans to have software perform routine networking tasks that many companies do manually on hardware today. "What you are going to see from us is this ruthless focus on automation," Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins told reporters.

A key component to Cisco's network automation strategy is its Application Policy Infrastructure Controller Enterprise Module (APIC-EM) -- software that provides automation, abstraction and policy-based management.

During a keynote, David Goeckeler, general manager of Cisco's networking and security group, showed how Cisco could use the APIC-EM for deploying internet of things (IoT) devices faster.

Goeckeler attached an upcoming IoT Catalyst switch to the controller using a Power over Ethernet (PoE) connection. When the device popped up on the APIC-EM console, it had already been segmented from other network devices. With a few clicks, Goeckeler chose the hardware and applications that would communicate with devices attached to the switch. The console showed connections on a topology screen.

"As we bring out more products, they're going to look a lot more like this," Goeckeler said.

Cisco plans to ship the switch, which is used to run lighting systems and surveillance cameras, within six months.

Cisco's march to software

Cisco's focus on network automation tools is in response to companies shifting away from the specialty hardware that has been the vendor's core business for more than 30 years. Companies are replacing the gear with software that makes networks more adaptable to changes in business applications.

"I think they [Cisco] have laid out a good vision of where they want to go, but the deliverables are coming slowly," said Dan Conde, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., based in Milford, Mass.

Companies that want more automation quicker on Cisco gear have turned to vendors like Glue Networks and LiveAction, which provide a management layer on top of the hardware, said John Burke, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill. Also, Cisco's procrastination has given numerous companies a head start in selling software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology.

"The whole SD-WAN industry arose, in part, because the WAN needed a lot more automation," Burke said.

Besides its APIC-EM, Cisco is providing that additional automation through its Meraki cloud-based software, which is aimed at the wireless LAN. Todd Nightingale, general manager of Cisco's cloud networking group, demonstrated a Cisco-built surveillance camera that automatically communicated to the Meraki dashboard, once the device was plugged into the network through a PoE connection.

The camera stored up to 20 days of video to avoid consuming bandwidth by streaming recordings to the Meraki cloud, Nightingale said. Also, it executed frame-by-frame motion search and other commands sent through the Meraki console.

Kota Subrahmanya, the director of Indian reseller Central Data Systems Pvt. Ltd., said the Meraki Camera had the simplicity buyers wanted. "For a small customer, this makes sense, and the camera will make it easier to address that market," he said.

Cisco started shipping the Meraki Camera in October.

Cisco device certification

Rowan Trollope, the general manager of Cisco's IoT and applications group, said the company would extend network automation tools to third-party devices through a certification program that Cisco would launch over the next 12 months. Manufacturers that agree to follow Cisco specifications could build devices manageable through the vendor's software.

Trollope said Cisco would eventually submit its specs to an industry standards body. In the meantime, the vendor would start its certification program, which would include security specifications.

"We have to move a lot faster, but we're not saying this has to be a closed network," Trollope told reporters.

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