Cisco DNA Center headed for central enterprise network management

The new Cisco DNA Center policy software may become the central enterprise management console for data center and campus networks, integrating Cisco's APIC controller.

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Cisco is expected to eventually make its Digital Network Architecture Center the central management console for data center and campus networking.

Introduced last week, the Cisco DNA Center is the software for creating and distributing policies that control Cisco's new line of campus access switches, called the Catalyst 9000 Series. The switches comprise the platform for Cisco's new software-controlled campus network infrastructure.

Today, Cisco uses two different controllers to deliver its flavor of software-defined networking --  called Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) -- to the data center and the campus. Cisco uses the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) for the former, and the APIC-Enterprise Module for the latter.

"[Cisco] will ultimately integrate APIC and DNA Center to provide end-to-end policy management," said Shamus McGillicuddy, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, based in Boulder, Colo. McGillicuddy attended analyst briefings on DNA Center at Cisco Live, the company's annual customer education and training conference.

Also, while Cisco has not discussed supporting third-party network infrastructures, it's a possibility, McGillicuddy said. That's because Cisco DNA Center and APIC-EM leverage NetConf, a widely used communication technology for policy-based networking, to talk to the Catalyst 9000s.

"It's not completely unfathomable that DNA Center could ultimately program third-party infrastructure that supports NetConf," McGillicuddy said.

APIC, on the other hand, uses a different technology called OpFlex to enable ACI on Cisco's Nexus 9000 switches for the data center, McGillicuddy said. Cisco created OpFlex, then opened it up to the industry as a proposed standard. To date, no other vendors have adopted it.


APIC-EM was first introduced in 2014 to automatically program the command-line interfaces (CLIs) of Catalyst switches. The version under DNA Center is designed to work with the latest iteration of IOS, the network operating system in the Catalyst 9000s

APIC-EM works alongside a network data analytics platform that supports network and security monitoring and troubleshooting within DNA Center.

Meraki in DNA Center

In building DNA Center's user interface, Cisco borrowed from the cloud-based software its Meraki unit provides customers to manage Meraki wireless LAN switches and access points. "It's a rework of what use to be the APIC-EM interface to beautify it and make it a lot more Meraki-like," Roland Acra, Cisco's general manager of data center products, said in an interview Tuesday at Cisco Live.

Meraki developers focus on simplicity to make products that appeal to small and medium-sized businesses with limited IT staff. While Cisco DNA Center requires a more sophisticated user, "the interface sure has a Meraki feel to it," said Andrew Froehlich, a network consultant and TechTarget contributor.

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