Network the 'foundation' of digital transformation: Cisco

Network infrastructure must be leveraged as the central piece in order to design security, collaboration, and analytics architectures, Cisco has said.

While security, collaboration, and datacentre analytics remain a top priority, Cisco has said it is the network infrastructure itself that forms the foundation of digital transformation -- and that it is in a unique position to be able to leverage this infrastructure and the innovation occurring across it.

"The network has become the foundation of this digital transformation," David Goeckeler, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Networking and Security Business, said on Wednesday morning at Cisco Live Las Vegas.

"As we look at the security architecture, the reality is you cannot build a world-class security architecture in the world today without leveraging the infrastructure and leveraging the network. And that is a really fun place to be for Cisco, because our ability to bring all of these markets together and leverage the innovation that's going on in the infrastructure is incredible."

This is where Cisco's Digital Network Architecture (DNA) solution, which allows engineers, developers, partners, and customers to build and manage what Cisco calls "digital-ready networks", comes into play.

"This is really what DNA is all about: The Digital Network Architecture that's going to enable this transition," he said.

"[It's] a network that's flexible, that allows us to adapt to a changing environment, to allow us to apply new policy in real time and understand where the most sophisticated threat actors are in the world, a network that's programmable, that allows us to automate. Automate provisioning, automate your business processes, automate your mediation and security through APIs, structured programming languages ... this programmable, flexible infrastructure is going to be the foundation going forward in technology."

The crucial thing is always ensuring that technology is open, Goeckeler added.

"Any modern technology stack, any modern security, any modern software architecture is based on the principle of open, allowing all of you to program on top of it," he said.

"APIs, the ability to dynamically change the infrastructure, this is a key tenet of what we were building with DNA."

Cisco on Monday unveiled three new technologies for DNA: Umbrella Branch, Stealthwatch Learning Network License, and Meraki MX Security Appliances with Advanced Malware Protection and Threat Grid. All are aimed at enabling network engineers, application developers, channel partners, and IT customers to embed improved and simplified security within their network infrastructure layer.

According to Todd Nightingale, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco Meraki, digital architecture comes with three tenets: Automation; security; and insights and experiences. For all of these, the network forms the basis.

"The next-gen foundation is really going to be about this Digital Network Architecture, and we think of that as coming with three tenets. This idea of automation -- self-driving it. A network that really takes a ton of the possibility for human error out of the picture, because it really is an automated way of managing that infrastructure.

"The second thing is security. Cisco is not shy about its commitment to security, and the network has to be that security isn't an afterthought. It has to be fully embedded, in fact the network is the sensor and it has to be the enforcer for your infrastructure, and that's why security has to be fundamental from the very beginning.

"And then the last one is this last concept of data; there's a ton of data pouring in from these networks every day, and it really would be a shame to drop it on the floor. The data has this power to make us more intelligent. If we can harness the data into real analytics and real insights, that can drive business intelligence really across the board, and I think this is the area where we're taking the biggest strides right now."

Goeckeler said that any innovation in both data analytics and collaboration are also based in the network infrastructure first and foremost.

Tetration Analytics -- a datacentre, server, and networking gear analytics and tracking system launched by Cisco last month -- is "fundamentally game-changing technology in the datacentre", Goeckeler claimed.

"It's analytics information on every flow and every packet that's going through the datacentre," he pointed out.

"We've seen some initial use cases of this, but where this is going to go -- I think only your imagination is the limit for what we're able to do with that much information coming out of the network."

Goeckeler also referenced Cisco's partnership with Apple, through which they have been exploring integrated Cisco's enterprise messaging and calling system Spark across iOS 10 devices.

"On the collaboration side, what we've done with apple and what we've announced this week and the ability for the infrastructure to enable a better user experience for collaboration," he said.

"I mean, what's bigger than Cisco and Apple?"

Speaking via video link during Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins' Cisco Live keynote on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook provided an update on what the two companies have been working towards through their partnership announced last year.

"Last September, we announced a breakthrough partnership with Cisco to make iOS devices work better than any other mobile operating system connected with Cisco technologies. We've been hard at work since that announcement, and I'm very excited to tell you about the new features we're about to deliver for customers of both Apple and Cisco," Cook said.

"First, we're making iOS devices work better than any other mobile platform on Cisco networks. Together, we've made it simple to configure, and give your employees the best network performance possible. And were delivering a fast lane for business-critical apps, so you can make sure the apps that pop out of your business automatically get top priority on your network. The result is an even better user experience, improved reliability, and better performance for the apps that matter the most.

"Second, with iOS 10, we're also making it easier to make and receive voice and video calls over IP. Now the Cisco Spark app will integrate with iPhone for a first-class calling experience. It's a seamless integration of enterprise collaboration services on the world's best mobile device."

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