ORLANDO, Fla.—In a business world roiled by such rapid changes as public clouds, mobility, distributed computing and the internet of things, the common denominator has become the network, according to Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins. Because of that, the network will have to adapt to the changes and the rise of modern workloads like artificial intelligence and data analytics.
“The network that we build, we will have to think about fundamentally differently,” Robbins said during his keynote address June 11 on the opening day of the Cisco Live 2018 show here.
Networks are going to have to evolve into open, intelligent, software-defined platforms that can provide easy programmability and security and allow developers from inside and outside the company to build software on top of them, the CEO said.
To help the company keep up, Cisco officials under Robbins’ leadership also have aggressively remade the network technology vendor, changing it from simply being a box maker to more of a software company that is growing the revenues it derives from subscriptions and services.
In an address that was short on product news and more focused on strategy, Robbins touched on the need for networks to offer a seamless link between a customer’s data center and the multiple public clouds they use while providing security in both on-premises and cloud environment and inviting developers onto the platform.
Robbins and Diane Greene, CEO of Google Cloud provided an update the partnership the two companies announced in October 2017 to develop a hybrid cloud platform that leverages technologies that each company contributes.
The two executives noted that the development of the platform has now moved into the early access phase, with plans to expand in the program in the coming weeks. It will become general available by October, Robbins said. Greene said companies are anxious to move more of their businesses to the cloud, but are challenged by the complexity. The idea behind the Cisco-Google Cloud partnership is to help make the migration easier, she said.
“You want to use this disruptive technology, but you need to move [to it] in a non-disruptive way,” Greene said, pointing to the way Google through its Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) and Cisco with its Cisco Container Platform (CCP) are making it easier for businesses to adopt containers and micro-services for applications. “It’s a very non-disruptive way to move forward.”
Cisco in May announced that its AppDynamics and CloudCenter now support Kubernetes, further extending the company’s capabilities around containers.
At Cisco Live a year ago, Robbins introduced the company’s intent-based networking strategy called the Network Intuitive that is aimed at creating networks that can leverage software to determine the intent of the network administrator, automatically translate those intentions into policies and then configure network systems and orchestrate policies to match the intent. Like the partnership with Google Cloud, intent-based networking is designed to reduce the complexity and improve the deployment and management of networks and the applications that run on them.
Cisco isn’t the only vendor pushing an intent-based networking vision. Established vendors such as Juniper Networks and Huawei Technologies also have initiatives underway, while smaller companies such as Veriflow Systems and Apstra are looking to gain traction.
During a press conference after the keynote, Robbins noted that customers are at once intensively interested in technology—in particular, what it can do for them—and not interested at all, at least in how it works. Network administrators don’t want to pull the infrastructure together; they want assurances that it will enable them to address business demands.
Momentum behind the effort is growing, the CEO said. Over the past year, Cisco has sold 5,800 Catalyst 9000 switches, which is the hardware foundation for the intuitive network.
“It really is reflective of the fact that our customers’ environments have gotten even more complex than they were a few years ago when there was this thought of moving to the public cloud for the sake of simplicity,” he said.
“They really are now dealing with a massive amount of SaaS [software-as-a-service] providers, multiple clouds that they’re consuming services from. They’re dealing with multiple devices, the IoT explosion that they’re dealing with at the edge, and private data centers have continued to grow during that period. The reality is that the network has a very strategic role to play in this new world.”
That role will be as a platform, Robbins and other executives said. Susie Wee vice president and CTO of the company’s DevNet developer ecosystem program, said before the keynote that four years after the launch of DevNet, the program now boasts more than 500,000 developer members, which shows the network being viewed as a development platform.
In addition, Robbins and David Goeckler, executive vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Networking and Security Business, said the introduction of the Encrypted Traffic Analytics last year also showed how the network serves as platform.
The software, which enables the detection of threats in encrypted malware, combines aspects of both networking and security, Goeckler said.