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

Cisco's vision for Networking Cloud becomes clear

Cisco is focused on simplifying, securing and delivering better experiences across networking, security, collaboration and apps in alignment with its vision to connect anything.

Over 19,000 people converged on Cisco Live this week. Not wanting to disappoint anyone, Cisco had numerous announcements this year spanning many different areas, most notably its Networking Cloud.

While its theme of Let's Go initially made me wonder if Tom Brady might be making an appearance -- spoiler alert: he did not -- we did get a visit from another NFL superstar, with NFL Chief Security Officer Cathy Lanier discussing the importance of cybersecurity in the NFL. This was followed by Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins and Jeetu Patel, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's security and applications business group, throwing the football around the stage and then into the crowd. Comedian Jim Gaffigan provided comic relief to wrap up the keynotes.

Both days included a significant number of innovations focused on simplifying, securing and delivering better experiences that spanned networking, security, collaboration and applications in alignment with Cisco's strategy to connect anything.

Networking updates

The announcement that stood out for me was Cisco's Networking Cloud vision. This is a bold commitment by Cisco to radically simplify the management of its network portfolio (and security).

Network Cloud Vision will be a multiyear journey to enable simplified, unified cloud-based network and security management.

The initial phase began last year with Meraki adding support for monitoring Catalyst switches. There is commitment to deliver cloud-based network management across all the network domains starting with the campus wired and wireless systems. It is also important to note that Cisco is not abandoning its on-premises management platform but rather will offer choice for organizations that either prefer or are required to keep all data on site. The goal is to consolidate all the existing platforms into just two -- a cloud-based and an on-premises management system.

It's one thing to create and communicate a vision, but the hard work of executing against it is what comes next. To that end, every network executive I spoke with during Cisco Live was genuinely committed to making this vision a reality.

In addition, there were several other network-related features focused on driving simplicity in the portfolio, including the following:

  • Cross-platform navigation: This starts with single sign-on for all network platforms to streamline and simplify access. There is also an API key exchange to facilitate sharing data and a platform navigator to easily move between existing network management and security systems.
  • Simplifying ease of use: Cisco is implementing a unified design system for its cloud-based networking and security. The goal is to provide a unified experience (something I often refer to as the principle of least astonishment) across all network and security platforms. Think about switching between your iPhone and iPad and having a consistent and intuitive experience.
  • Simplifying the Catalyst stack: This starts with a rebranding effort, as DNA Center becomes Catalyst Center and Viptela SD-WAN becomes Catalyst SD-WAN to capitalize on and reinforce the Catalyst brand and simplify naming conventions. Next is the cloud-delivered Catalyst SD-WAN, which enables consumption-based models. Cisco also announced a simplified Catalyst licensing for switches that unifies hardware, software and support licensing into a single SKU.
  • Platform enhancements: ThousandEyes Network Assurance has been extended to Meraki MX devices and WebEx devices; this will provide greater insight to the edge (potentially including home offices) for more comprehensive network visibility. Cloud Monitoring for Catalyst switches has been enhanced to expose CLI show commands to help with troubleshooting. AI blueprints enable organizations to rapidly deploy high-performance networks to support AI modeling environments.
  • Sustainability insights: Cisco also added these from Nexus dashboards and WebEx Control Hub.
Recap of the Key Announcements at Cisco Live and Why They Matter

Cisco adds security, observability tools

Among the security updates was Cisco Secure Access, which provides secure service edge, a new Secure Firewall 4200 and Cisco Multicloud Defense. The networking giant also added generative AI and security to its hybrid work software.

A new cloud-native application protection platform provides security monitoring, analysis and remediation to build, deploy and run secure cloud-native applications in today's distributed, multi-cloud environments.

Cisco also revealed its full stack observability platform to allow users to pull data across a multitude of different domains, including application, networking, infrastructure, security, cloud, sustainability and business sources.

In addition, new partnerships with Panduit and Vertiv enable Nexus Dashboards to provide energy usage and sustainability insights. This includes historical and real-time insights related to energy consumption costs and greenhouse gas emission for Nexus switches and other infrastructure.

The concept of circularity was also mentioned several times, related to the ability to reuse or responsibly recycle Cisco equipment. Cisco also added sustainability insights via the WebEx Control Hub.

What to do next

The transition to cloud-based management will require not only new technology but also a cultural change. So many Cisco users, and especially those more experienced CCIEs, have made a living leveraging CLI commands, and so the thought of using a GUI in a cloud-based system may not be as attractive as it is to digital native employees.

However, given how complicated these highly distributed modern IT environments have become, the ability to leverage cloud-based management software can bring a number of benefits, including reduced lifecycle management activities, the ability to access new functionality faster, accelerated problem detection and resolution leveraging AI and automation.

Given that the ability to view CLI commands was included in the latest release, it appears Cisco understands these concerns and is trying to simplify the transition. My advice would be to simply try it out first and provide your feedback to shape future releases. Cisco offers a free trial for qualified users.

Moving forward, there will be a lot of Cisco customers watching to see how and when they execute against their vision to deliver simple, secure network environments. Given that so many eyes will be on Cisco, it will be important for them to communicate a formal roadmap, which they can then highlight with each new release as a proof point of their progress. This would include not only the network management but also the convergence of network and security tools as well.

Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget. Their analysts have business relationships with technology vendors.

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