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Upgrading Cisco DNA - flexing the fabric

10 March 2017

ciscochampion2017-250.pngI've recently been accepted onto the Cisco Champion programme, which gives me early access to certain key technologies and information. I'm delighted about it, as it gives me the chance to improve my skills and add to the pool of knowledge that we already have at Ideal. It's good for our customers, too, as it's another sign of us strengthening our relationship with one of our key suppliers, and gaining the strategic and technological insight we need to deliver effective business outcomes.

Last week I had an early sight of some major upgrades to Cisco's Digital Network Architecture (DNA), incorporating network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN). That's an awful lot of TLAs to juggle, but I'm going to try and explain it through the lens of the business benefits - in other words: what can all this cool stuff actually do for you?

If you read our blog you'll know that SDN has been around for a while. It's all about the move away from traditional, hardware-defined IT delivery to agile, software-defined resources, called up through code. NFV is pretty much the same thing for network services, moving them away from dedicated hardware and allowing them to run across platforms - even on cloud infrastructure. What's DNA? That's the Cisco architecture which leverages these technologies and wraps everything up into a unified, software-driven infrastructure. It's delivered through the Cisco One software licensing system - my colleague George McKenna has more on that.

Explaining DNA

That's the top-level explanation, but what will DNA actually do for the organisation? In the face of digital transformation, businesses need greater flexibility. Specifically, they need a technology platform that delivers services more quickly to the business. The network needs to be ready, with changes made any time and delivered quickly and cost-effectively.

Cisco has architected DNA according to six principles, helpfully represented in this picture:DNA Principles.png

In DNA, the private, public (cloud) and remote parts of the IT estate all become part of the DNA fabric, which - to pull everything together - gives you a unifying network architecture, built for security and automation, with centralised management and pervasive analytics, and where the underlying resources are abstracted through virtualisation.

The chief benefit is agility. New network services can be defined and deployed in minutes on any platform. Applications are decoupled from the underlying hardware, offering far greater flexibility to deploy without a lengthy provisioning process and tie-in to the resulting hardware. Software is consistent across the physical and virtual components of the system. Some provisioning tasks that might have taken weeks - setting up a branch office, for example - can potentially be done in minutes.

What's new

So what did Cisco announce last week? Among the highlights for me was the ENCS (Enterprise Network Compute System) 5400 series - a platform designed to extend the virtualised network services of DNA out to branch offices. I'm also impressed by Cisco's ongoing efforts to virtualise everything within DNA and keep the system open, as this gives customers much greater flexibility - for example, letting you buy a certified next-generation firewall solution by Palo Alto Networks and deploy it as a virtual device.

It's these kind of changes in enterprise IT provision - decoupling a firewall solution from a box, deploying it remotely as a virtual network function - and the freedom and flexibility they represent that keep me excited about my job and the industry we work in. It's easy to get lost in acronyms, but when you focus not on the technology but on the way it's going to help you exceed your objectives, that's when things get really interesting.


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Header image: Alessandro/Flickr, Creative Commons