Earlier this month, Cisco held a media and press event to launch its intent-based networking solution. To no surprise, its user event, Cisco Live 2017 was all about the network as Cisco looks to get customers to think more broadly about the role of the network in digital transformation.
Brandon Butler did a great follow-up post to mine that talked about why intent-based networking is a big deal. He called out a number of benefits, including streamlined operations and better security.
+ Also on Network World: Cisco brings intent-based networking to the end-to-end network +
One of the aspects of intent-based networking that flew under the radar, though, was the intersection of Cisco’s DevNet program and the network, brought together by Cisco’s programmable switches. For those of you who aren’t familiar with DevNet, it is Cisco’s developer environment designed to help its network engineers better work with a software-driven network and to enable application and infrastructure developers, as well as ISVs, leverage the network.
As part of the intent-based networking launch, Cisco announced a new DNA Developer Center in DevNet that includes learning tracks, developer support, sample code and a complete sandboxed environment so developers can work with the new network switches without have to buy them and install them. This alone can save weeks of time and tens of thousands of dollars.
Many of the benefits of Cisco’s new solution will provide immediate value, such as being able to find malware in encrypted traffic. But DevNet will extend the benefits of it to developers to deliver significantly more business value.
One of the major changes to the new Catalyst 9000 series is IOS XE, which was overhauled to be programmable. Prior to this release of IOS, developers who wanted to work with Cisco networking gear would need to have the application send CLI commands to the boxes. The new IOS XE speaks the language of developers by supporting things such as NETCONF and Yang, and it has native APIs that deliver analytics and network intelligence. That’s right, no more having to infuse CLI commands through an application. This worked, but it was clumsy and awkward at best.
Admittedly, having application developers leverage the network isn’t all that common. I was a member of a press panel at Cisco Live moderated by Susie Wee, Cisco Vice President and CTO of DevNet, where someone in the audience asked why all of a sudden app developers and infrastructure people will start working together. This is certainly more than a fair question, as it’s a rarity today. The fact is those groups are going to have to work together if businesses are going to drive innovation at digital speeds.
This topic came up in a customer panel with the analysts on Day 2 of Cisco Live, and Mike Giresi, CIO of Royal Carribean Cruise Lines, made the comment that the fact that the application and infrastructure teams don’t work together is completely “insane.”
The way Giresi has worked around the problem is to give both teams goals on business outcomes. For example, the cruise line is trying to develop frictionless embarkation where people can walk onto a ship and use their mobile phone for identification, state room assignments and other tasks instead of waiting in long queues. He stated he doesn’t care how pretty an app is; if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And he will hold everyone accountable. Instead of finger pointing, both teams work together to make sure the users’ experience is the best it can be.
How Cisco’s programmable infrastructure helps developers
If you’re convinced now that application and infrastructure teams need to work together, the next step is to understand how Cisco’s programmable infrastructure can help developers. At the launch event, I had the opportunity to talk with Wee about this. Here are the top ways it can help:
- Security can be built directly into the application. Instead of security being an overlay to applications and infrastructure, developers can integrate threat protection into the app. For example, any encrypted traffic coming into an application could be inspected using ETA prior to the user seeing it. If it’s bad traffic, drop it before a worker has the opportunity to open it.
- Access to optimization features. By being able to access network resources directly, a developer could take advantage of the “FastLane” feature co-developed by Apple and Cisco. If an Apple device is being used, the app could automatically move traffic into a FastLane (similar to QoS) and ensure it has prioritized bandwidth over other applications. Even for non-Apple devices, the app could choose to use an alternate path to a branch in an SD-WAN configuration.
- Better analytic information to create “smarter” apps. Cisco provides a wealth of data that application developers can tap into. For example, at a sporting event, the stadium application could push a message to people at a concession stand, telling them lines are shorter at an alternative location. The app could discover this information by looking at the number of mobile devices in a certain area or from video analytics.
- Improved IoT experiences. The possibilities around IoT are limitless if the apps, devices and network talk to one another. Consider the way most offices operate when the facilities are unconnected. Lights, AC systems and other facilities turn off and on automatically at certain times of the day regardless of whether people are in the office. What if everything stayed off until a worker swiped their employee badge to open the door and let them in? At that time, only the AC, lights, wireless APs and printers in that area would automatically come on. Another use case could be a smart meeting room that dynamically adjusts the AC in a room depending on the number of people in it, ensuring the environment is always comfortable.
Security, application performance, analytics and IoT enablement are all strong reasons for why the application and infrastructure teams should work together to deliver business outcomes. However, even the best intentions won’t achieve the results desired if the network doesn’t speak the language of developers.
Cisco’s intent-based networking has received a lot of “ooohs and ahhhs” for its fancy new switches and slick DNA Center dashboard, but much of the long-term value will be derived from enabling developers to access network resources and for the network to empower applications. Cisco’s DevNet provides all the resources a developer or infrastructure person needs to kick-start this effort in their company today.