Cisco’s Intuitive Network Demands Much More than App and Infrastructure Unification

Brad Shimmin – Research Director, Business Technology and Software

Summary Bullets:

• Cisco’s recent marketing campaign around “The Network Intuitive” calls for a radical rethink of the network where programmability, artificial intelligence (AI), and transparency point toward a self-aware infrastructure driven by business outcomes.

• But for that to work, for Cisco to help companies at last bridge the seemingly intractable rift that exists between IT and business concerns, the company will need to help its customers reimagine how apps are built.

It doesn’t matter if you run your enterprise app in the cloud or on premises, whether those apps are containerized, or if they adhere to a modern development paradigm (agile, RAD, et al.). Inevitably, each and every one will reveal what is perhaps the industry’s longest standing challenge — unifying IT and business. The app will go down; a database error will occur, client software will slow, or worse still the app may fall prey to a security breach or attack. And that’s when the finger pointing starts between development, IT, service provider, integrator or VAR, et al. Eventually the root cause of the problem will present itself, but in the meantime, reputations are sullied and money is lost.
In a nutshell, this is the problem Cisco hopes to solve with its newly christened go to market message of “The Network Intuitive,” which it rolled out last week and promoted heavily during this week’s Cisco Live! conference in Las Vegas. The idea behind this catch phrase is the reinvention of networking via visibility up and down the protocol stack. Supported by a number of recent acquisitions and in-house R&D, Cisco has amassed a number of interesting capabilities that take this visibility and blend it with programmability, cognition (that is to say AI), instrumentation and automation to build out an IT infrastructure that doesn’t just point the finger in the right direction but can also take autonomous action in response to the needs of business outcomes.

Here are a few of those key acquisitions and technologies powering the data and analytics side of this new initiative.

• Tetration Analytics

• Network Data Platform

• MindMeld

• AppDynamics

• Application Centric Infrastructure

• Cloud Center (CliQr)

These various technologies can be bundled together as needs require; they will also find their way into various products and use cases specific to opportunities like IoT. If that sounds like a lot for one company to juggle, remember that this is Cisco, a firm that has shown an uncanny ability to take an abrupt left turn technologically and not leave its substantial sales and support channel behind. With the launch of The Network Intuitive, for example, the vendor announced that it had already trained a significant number of channel partners on selling, delivering and supporting these and many other offerings associated with this initiative.

Given Cisco’s ability to pull all of these interrelated technologies together and the capacity of its channel to rapidly consume those technologies, The Network Intuitive sounds like it should be a slam dunk, albeit one that unfolds slowly over the course of several equipment retirement cycles. And yet, I feel that none of that will actually merge IT and business unless Cisco can also reinvent the way apps are built. Cisco will need to push well beyond its ongoing objective of seeking to please and appeal to developers through infrastructure automation, even if that infrastructure is intuitive.

First it will need to learn how to sell this concept (and its supportive infrastructure) to business stakeholders. (Side note: this is something the company’s newest acquisition, AppDynamics, knows how to do quite well.) Second, it will need to stop focusing on re-training its channel partners as developers. That is simply not going to happen except among those with considerable domain expertise. Instead, Cisco should focus on proving the value of accountability.

What do I mean by accountability? During the waning moments of Monday’s keynote, one of Cisco’s customers, Royal Caribbean, said it best, “This isn’t about cross training; it’s about assigning accountability and ownership.” For this vendor, there is no rift between IT and business. The apps themselves are the bridge across that chasm. Royal Caribbean therefore blends responsibility for performance with that of functionality and design. It do this by embedding representatives from both sides within its development teams. IT operations still needs to make sure the network “works” but the responsibility to make sure the app does what the business wants using that network becomes the developer’s responsibility. This is the key to Cisco’s intuitive network. A new way of networking indeed is called for, but that must be married to a change in how enterprises think about software development.

What do you think?

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