Cisco's 'network intuitive' the next era of networking: Chuck Robbins

CEO Chuck Robbins used his Cisco Live keynote to expound on the networking giant's new network intuitive, saying the company had to rewrite its IOS to enable its command centre and analytics platform, encrypted traffic analytics, and programmable switches.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

Cisco's "network intuitive" will enable the scale, complexity, and security required by the billions of devices to be added to the internet in future, according to CEO Chuck Robbins.

"We are going to build the secure, intelligent platform on which you can run the business of the future," Robbins said during his keynote at Cisco Live Las Vegas on Monday, adding that in order to do so, Cisco will reinvent networking, enable a multi-cloud world, unlock the power of data, and deploy security everywhere across the network.

"Last week, we announced the network intuitive, which is the start of this new network for this new era powered by intent and informed by context."

According to Robbins, as many as 1 million new connections per hour will be added to the internet by 2020, with Cisco's network intuitive comprising three parts: Encrypted traffic analytics; the DNA-Center, which is the command centre and analytics platform of the new network; and a series of programmable, IoT-, cloud-, and mobile-ready switches called the Catalyst 9000 series.

The network intuitive is based on Cisco's Digital Network Architecture (DNA), which marks a strategy of "intent-based networking infrastructure", with Cisco labelling the new network as its most significant achievement in the last 10 years.

"The network actually has insight and context ... there is so much context in the network, and we're going to unleash that for you," Robbins said.

"We're going to build security deep into the network ... and then all of this over time creates this adaptive system that understands your intent, has a level of trust built in, that then gets informed by context and constantly adapts."

According to Robbins, Cisco had to completely rewrite 25 years of software in order to develop its DNA-Center -- including undertaking a modernisation of its internetwork operating system (IOS).

"We had to rewrite IOS to a modern data model, API-structured operating system ... that was foundational for us to do any of this," he explained.

"That then allowed us to launch DNA-Center, which is fundamentally the command centre for the network. This is where you will declare your intent that will be automated, defined by the policy that you're trying to implement -- software-defined everything.

"It also is a major analytics platform. We've had all this data in the network for all of these years, but it's been sitting on islands, or on routers and switches, and around infrastructure. The DNA-Center is going to serve as an analytics platform where we are going to stream the analytics, and we now have the ability to provide insights, context, and analytics from the application to the datacentre, to the core enterprise network, and combine it with all the threat-intelligence we have in our security portfolio."

According to a blog post by Cisco senior VP and GM of Networking and Security David Goeckeler, the encrypted traffic analytics arm of the network intuitive then solved "one of the biggest challenges in network security" by inventing technology that can identify malware in encrypted traffic without decrypting information and therefore risking a privacy breach.

"Encrypted traffic analytics ... is revolutionary innovation that's only possible through a combination of all the threat intelligence that we have with our TALOS security platform; the programmability of the silicon; 30 years of understanding packet flow dynamics; and the context that we see on the network," Robbins added in his keynote.

"Our team has launched encrypted traffic analytics with 99.995 percent efficacy that can determine when there's malware in encrypted traffic without decrypting it, really threading the needle between privacy and security."

While the system has yet to be launched, Cisco already has 75 early field trial customers using the technology to ensure it is ready to go, including Wipro, DB, and Accenture.


Apple CEO Tim Cook and Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

Making a surprise appearance during the keynote, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the two-year-old Cisco-Apple partnership is continuing to grow, with the two focusing on baking security and control into their enterprise offerings.

"The whole idea behind the work we're doing together is that you should be in control over the cat video that's being watched in the office versus the critical business applications, and you think about the difficulties people have just connecting and staying on Wi-Fi and the prioritisation there and the ability to configure so quickly," Cook said.

"We've got a whole new device management system in iOS 11 as well that make rolling out devices simple, and so I think the things that we're doing together now ... there's more and more and more, and I think together we make up the most secure combination of anybody in the enterprise.

"I think that increasingly is not just important, but necessary."

A public beta for iOS 11, unveiled last month, will be coming out "very shortly", Cook added.

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to Cisco Live in Las Vegas as a guest of Cisco

Updated at 9.30am PST, June 28: Cisco had to modernise its own IOS.

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