Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins software bet is working and it’s worth understanding

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Published: July 30, 2018 11:33:47 AM

Despite the early lag, Cisco’s software push is paying off. More than 5800 Catalyst 9000 switches have been sold with a significant number of organisations opting for Cisco DNA Centre.

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins with Susie Wee and David Goeckeler (File)

Back in 2014, Cisco started its developer program called ‘Cisco DevNet’. It was a time when software-defined-network (SDN) was creating a buzz in the research community. Buzz is not new to the tech industry. Half a decade ago, it was Ethernet Fabrics in the data centre, then came SDN, and currently, it is SD-WAN. According to research firm Gartner, as SD-WAN adoption grows and shifts from bleeding to leading edge, the next big thing on the networking is intent-based networking – a modern network architecture in which software, APIs, and programmability become core to the network.

“Intent-based networking represents the next generation of open, IP-based systems that we have seen can change the actual fabric of society,” said David Goeckeler, executive vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Networking and Security Business, adding that his company was building an open architecture that would power an ecosystem to accelerate intent-based networking innovation.

As a company which has more than 60% share worldwide in the networking infrastructure market, Cisco had to drive programmability into its products to make intent based networking real, to be competitive and avoid becoming the Nokia or BlackBerry of the world. Fortunately, the company’s top leadership spotted it on time and Cisco DevNet was born.

Since then a lot of water has flowed under the bridge and the DevNet which enable networkers and application developers to use the power of software coding for programmable networks and network APIs has now over five-lakh registered members.

This is nowhere near to the size of developer communities of Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple but this is a critical mass for a hardcore hardware company. Thanks to the power of this community and leadership of Susie Wee who heads DevNet at Cisco as a VP & CTO, the networking giant has made substantial progress on the intent-based networking since it was launched in June 2017.

Today, intent-based networking has moved from concept to reality. Actual deployments are happening on the ground. In the last one year over 5800 Catalyst 9000 switches have been sold with a significant number of organisations opting for Cisco DNA Centre. This switch along with DNA Centre is the foundation of the company’s Network Intuitive platform and its ability to successfully migrate from expensive, proprietary hardware provider in favour of software-based solutions purchased on a subscription basis.

“This is the fastest-ramping new product introduction we have had in our history and a fantastic example of the innovation we have delivered over the last two years,” Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins told to the Wall Street analysts in a conference call.

The intent-based networking is primarily an integration of networking infrastructure with the help of software and finally making it open for businesses and developers. Cisco does it with the help of a software controller called DNA Centre. This controller treats every network device — be it wired, wireless, or wide-area — as part of a unified fabric, giving IT manager a simple, cost-effective way to take control of network infrastructure.

This is key for the growth of intent-based networking because there has been ample innovation in computing and storage but one of the critical piece of an IT infrastructure – networking – was still not opened.

According to Scott Harrell, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Enterprise Networking Business, for more than two decades, it has been running pretty much the same way making it increasingly difficult, fragmented, and expensive for businesses. Therefore, modern networks need to be both more integrated and more flexible.

Despite young age companies like Apstra making decent inroads on intent-based networking, this would not have been possible without Cisco, simply because of its sheer market share.

The potential of over half a million DevNet members who are primarily – software developers, IT and DevOps professionals – writing code that can be leveraged for networking, data centre, cloud, security, IoT, and collaboration is huge and they can fuel the growth of network automation provided they get the platform and open access to network-wide APIs.

That is what, in a recently concluded Cisco Live 2018 in Florida, the US-based firm focused on. It made two big announcements that have the potential to transform how businesses and network engineers see networking.

First, the DNA Centre which sits over network switch as a software controller is now an open platform. It can turn the network from a combination of hardware devices into a single system, including the multi-vendor networks via a software developer kit (SDK), leading to the availability of network-wide APIs which developers can easily program.

Second is making developer strong by providing access to what they need. This is being done with the help of two new announcements – DevNet Ecosystem Exchange and DevNet Code Exchange. While the DevNet Ecosystem Exchange makes it easy to find and share an application or solution built for Cisco platforms, the DevNet Code Exchange gives developers a place to access and share software to quickly build applications and workflow integrations.

“We’ve come a long way since 2014. DevNet is now a community of 500,000 developers, leveraging code and sharing code to build better solutions. But we’re just getting started,” said Susie Wee, VP & CTO, Cisco DevNet.

Don’t be surprised if next year, DevNet dominates the Cisco Live.

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