• 07/14/2016
    7:30 AM
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Cisco: From CLI To Cloud

With DNA, Cisco is prepping for a future where network devices can be managed from the cloud.

At this week's Cisco Live, I learned how Cisco is working to change how network devices will be managed in the future. This will be a gradual evolution, rather than a sudden blockbuster change, but will require some adjustment for traditional networking administrators accustomed to CLI.

Network admins are accustomed to configuring and devices one at a time and devices performed tasks locally. Of course, they have communicated with other peer networking devices using protocols such as BGP to exchange routing information, but the network has been fundamentally a distributed system of independent devices. Some centralization is possible with network automation tools that perform configuration settings on many devices, or more recently, SDN controllers such as Cisco APIC or OpenDaylight, which have started to create an architecture that coordinates a large part of the network.

The logical next step is to push some control into the public or private cloud, which helps simplify service management for policy and orchestration across the network. This is part of Cisco’s Digital Network Architecture, which includes elements for automation, virtualization, analytics, and programmability.

Various vendors have provided cloud-based network management, such as Aerohive HiveManager, CiscoMeraki for wireless access points, and VeloCloud  SD-WAN services delivered from the cloud. But with Cisco’s DNA, this cloud-based control is starting to become relevant to a larger part of Cisco’s portfolio such as its IWAN technology and the new Cloud Defense Orchestrator.

Cloud-based management also is key to Cisco's  Internet of Things (IoT) aspirations. The Jasper IoT services platform, which Cisco acquired earlier this year, is a manifestation of this trend. With increased scale and distributed locations, cloud-based management becomes critical.

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Cisco Live 2016
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(Image: Cisco)

This doesn't mean that network control will be ceded into the cloud since control functionality will be coordinated between various components on premises in traditional appliances as well as cloud-based services. To simplify it, it’s not like one is expected to interact solely with a cloud-based management UI (or CLI for that matter!).  

What really matters is that the network is transforming itself into a set of services, delivered by a combination of hardware and software, through virtual machines or containers (NFV), and through networking connections that are managed by the enterprise, service providers, or cloud providers. The architecture of a network is fundamentally changing to be a federation of systems that deliver these functions.

For network engineers, this means that a device-centric view will give way to a new architecture that stitches the network together to deliver digital services for enabling business. Network administrators need to shift their gaze away from the devices and look at the system more holistically, and think more like network architects.

That’s why in the short term, network engineers need to study concepts such as DevOps, automation, and service delivery rather than the traditional concepts of protocols and good-old-fashioned CLI. On this front, Cisco’s education efforts such as DevNet aim to help network professionals keep up. In two short years, Cisco has created a strong community to help developers and network professionals learn these new skills.

Products that use these cloud-managed capabilities are emerging, such as APIC-EM, IWAN and Enterprise NFV, but I believe they will become more pervasive over time throughout the Cisco portfolio.

With Cisco DNA, some organizations may be worried that reliance on one vendor's architecture prevents the adoption of multi-vendor environments. That’s partially true if you want to gain benefits that are specific to a particular vendor, but I wouldn’t be too worried. Networking is fundamentally an IT industry that prides itself on interoperability -- that’s the origin of Interop's name, after all -- -- and well-established standards and protocols.

Modern network switches from Juniper Networks, Arista and others are open and enable programmability via many methods such as REST interfaces, which also are available in Cisco’s NX-OS. Contrary to popular perception, Cisco devices are surprisingly open now, with open APIs and architectures based on open-source components such as Mantl. Cisco also participates in open-source communities such as the Linux Foundation. The world is changing, and Cisco Live demonstrated that Cisco is making solid efforts to adapt its networking solutions.

Competing IT platforms and services such as AWS, open-source based projects and products have been important in transforming how Cisco delivers these products. Cisco may have been famous for combining systems that were full of complexity and relied on an army of certified professional to work, but the networking giant is realizing that in a modern IT world, new architectures are critical to simplify deployment, management and enable automation.

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