At the start of the month I was at Cisco Live in Barcelona: an entire week of presentations, workshops, networking and general hobnobbing among Cisco, its partners and IT professionals. I've been before, but this year I was with fellow solution architects Daren Vallyon and Adrian Clarke - a strong showing from Ideal. It was also my first time attending as a Cisco Champion - more on that below.
I wasn't particularly expecting to see much new technology, but I was wrong. Cisco's main focus was on intent-based networking, and a lot of the content was about technologies like software-defined access (SDA) that help make it a reality. These technologies are fairly new, and it's interesting to see how systems like Cisco DNA Centre are already evolving from ways to push out an intent-based network configuration, to systems that also provide far greater network visibility.
I've already written about how DNA Centre simplifies provisioning, and in Barcelona I did an instructor-led, hands-on lab on SDA, using Cisco 3850 switches. There were maybe 30 people configuring that up and using a single DNA Centre Appliance, pushing out the changes to each of our lab networks. It showed an extreme use case of a very busy network, demonstrating the potential of the appliance to automate complex (and sometimes conflicting) provisioning requirements.
New functionality for DNA Centre released at Cisco Live focused on its analytical and assurance capabilities. As an example, say that Susan in HR had an issue getting on the network seven hours ago. DNA Centre now lets us look up what devices she was using: a phone, an iPad and a laptop. Say the problem was with the iPad, we can go back and see which access point it was trying to connect to. Under the hood, DNA Centre is talking to the Identity Services Engine (ISE), to the wireless LAN controller, and maybe even to the APIs of third-party products like an Infoblox DHCP server. In one place you've got everything you might need to diagnose an issue with a device, or a wider problem like a subnet that's run out of free IP addresses.
Techs v Devs
Despite all the focus on software, there were still plenty of hardcore technologists there. I kicked off one day with a quality of service (QoS) session where the guy literally went through every line of config you'd need to implement QoS on every Cisco switch platform - not the easiest start to a day. There was an interesting contrast between his old-school approach, and the DevNet area, where the discussion was more about "how do we script this?" or "how do we get into this API?". There was less architecture being discussed there, and more focus on the cool stuff you can get platforms to do.
It was great being at Cisco Live as a Cisco Champion. I quickly discovered that it helped open some doors, and got us into conversations that we'd otherwise be missing out on. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people were at the keynote speech, which featured a video and live interview with technologists from the Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Later we found ourselves sitting next to them at dinner, along with the head of infrastructure from a major UK retail chain. It's great to mix up enterprise customers, Cisco people and Cisco Champions in that way, and it gave us a chance to get input from end-users who aren't Ideal's customers.
Beyond Cisco Live, I'm already enjoying the community aspect of being a Cisco Champion. I've been impressed that the conversations aren't just about "how do I sell this?" or "how do I fix it?", but that there's lots of commentary. It's quite direct, which makes it a great forum for constructive discussion and feedback. I'm still feeling my way with my own contributions, but already I feel like I'm getting loads from the programme - I hope some of the extra insight and access boils down into benefits for our customers.
Want to understand how Cisco DNA Centre could simplify provisioning, management and assurance on your network? Why not get in touch?