6 min

Next step in simplifying networking portfolio brings together SSO, automation, deeper integration of networking products and environments, and more and better monitoring in the Networking Cloud.

Cisco is busy making its offerings more manageable. We wrote an extensive analysis on this last year. It had all become far too complicated, with too many products of which it was not always clear how they complement each other. This was not only our opinion, but customers also wanted more overview and clarity.

Last year, the big news was that Cisco was going to merge the Meraki and Catalyst platforms. However, that was only a first step. The company’s vision and strategy is to seriously cut complexity. It wants to do this using a subdivision into multiple pillars. You could call it the Salesforce approach. Just as that company has a Sales Cloud and a Marketing Cloud, Cisco is going to house everything in multiple clouds. We predicted this in an earlier Security Cloud article, based on statements made by EVP Security & Collaboration at Cisco, Jeetu Patel. Today it’s the turn of networking offerings, with the announcement of the Cisco Networking Cloud.

To be clear, Cisco Networking Cloud is not a product; you cannot purchase it on a licensing basis. It is a strategic vision, with the components that fall under it to be purchased as products and services.

More simplicity

A lot of what Cisco is currently doing in terms of strategy is focused on simplifying its offerings. That should not only make life easier for network administrators, it should make the network as a whole more efficient and reliable. Part of the Cisco Networking Cloud is that there will be SSO for all networking platforms (Catalyst, Meraki, SD-WAN). There will also be a single UX/UI for the different environments.

To make everything clearer, Catalyst will have a larger role in Cisco’s offerings. The existing Catalyst products will keep their names, of course, but Cisco is also renaming some other products. For example, DNA Center will now be Catalyst Center, DNA Software and Licensing will now be called Catalyst Software and Licensing, and the names Cisco SD-WAN and Viptela SD-WAN will also come to an end. From now on, those will also go by the name Catalyst SD-WAN. Whereas last year it still seemed that Cisco was going to slowly say goodbye to Catalyst as a brand name and move everything toward Meraki as a cloud platform, this year we see that Catalyst is far from gone. That wouldn’t be so smart, by the way, because Catalyst is a much stronger name in the enterprise market than Meraki, but that aside.

In addition to renaming some of the network offerings, there is also a simplification in terms of licensing. That’s crucial, because at the end of the day, that’s what customers are primarily looking at anyway. Giving everything the same name is nice from a marketing perspective, but if customers then still have a lot of complexity in terms of licenses, that is mainly nice for them on paper. Cisco understood that, too. Hence, from now on, hardware and software licenses will be merged into a single subscription. This will happen first for Catalyst switches, but will be extended to the rest of the offering.

Finally, within the Networking Cloud, Cisco also wants to offer the ability to optimally set up the data center for AI/ML workloads. It does this through the AI Data Center Blueprint for Networking. This allows you to optimize the data center for HPC and large-scale ML fabs that you layer over the infrastructure, is Cisco’s approach. You get insight into AI workloads through the Nexus Dashboard, where automation templates are also available to customers. This way, you can set up the network exactly as needed for the needs and requirements. Think of things like load-balancing, bandwidth per workload, managing traffic in general and guarantees that no packets are lost. These features are coming to the Nexus 9000 with Nexus-OS.

More monitoring

In addition to simplifying its offerings, Cisco Networking Cloud also brings more monitoring capabilities. We already saw this a bit with the AI Data Center Blueprint for Networking component, but it goes even further. ThousandEyes plays an important role in this. Cisco talks about providing end-to-end network assurance using ThousandEyes. This is important because the network is a critical component in providing the best experience for users within an enterprise environment.

First, ThousandEyes will have a broader scope. It is also going to provide insights into Meraki MX and Webex RoomOS devices. Thus, it also covers Webex collaboration endpoints and Meraki SD-WAN devices. Cisco further promises to provide faster insight into incidents as well. It does this through Event Detection. This detection is fully automated and thus should provide faster results for the administrator. There is also a special focus on connections to AWS. Customers will get more insight into those, in order to solve any problems faster.

Finally, in the area of monitoring, there is also Cloud Monitoring for Catalyst. The name of this new service reflects what it does. It lets you troubleshoot and manage Catalyst devices. Specifically, it includes the ability to display a CLI environment, image management and some more advanced troubleshooting. You do this from the Meraki dashboard, by the way, which makes it a bit confusing. On the one hand, Cisco renames several products to the Catalyst brand name, but then again, this new functionality comes from within the Meraki environment. In itself, it makes sense, because Meraki is the basis for the cloud platform for network management that Cisco keeps building out. In the future, that will be the only cloud platform Cisco offers. However, there will also remain room for an on-prem platform. That will be Catalyst.

More integration

The final component of the Cisco Networking Cloud actually doesn’t even have that much to do with the network. Indeed, overarching, the division into multiple “Clouds” should also lead to better integration of the various components of an IT environment, both Cisco and third-party. Cisco spokespeople will not stop talking about this during Cisco Live, we would almost dare to say. Think of the easy exchange of API keys, to make it easier to link Cisco’s network platforms to other components. This should ensure more automation and thus fewer errors. Furthermore, Cisco is going to pay a lot of attention to a better experience when using the various network platforms. This should become a “seamless” experience.

The above examples of integrations are achievable in the near future. However, there is also a more fundamental component to this part of the Cisco Networking Cloud. That is to get networking closer to other parts of the offering as well. Particularly in the area of security, there is much to gain. Cisco envisions a future where there are going to be shared policies for networking and security. That is, both the networking team and the security team can roll out the same policies. In other words, an employee in the security department can also partially set up the network, and vice versa. We are far from that at this point, but it is an interesting concept. It could significantly reduce the burden on different teams within organizations, provided it works well, of course.

At the end of the day, the latter – burden reduction on the various teams – is Cisco’s main reason for simplifying its portfolio (in addition to remaining competitive in the market, of course). So we can still expect a lot at this point. So we feel free to repeat the prediction of our previous article. The redesign of Cisco’s offerings does not stop here. Just keep in mind that in addition to the Security Cloud and the Networking Cloud, there will at least be Observability Cloud and a Collaboration Cloud, or names similar to them.

Cisco Networking Cloud is ambitious, but necessary

Next, if Cisco actually manages to further simplify the offerings in those clouds, then it’s a good strategy. This is not easy, however, because Cisco has a serious amount of history (legacy), especially in the networking area, and lots of customers and partners with lots of different needs and requirements. It will also irrevocably have to make some hard choices, for example in terms of supporting older hardware that is still widely used. But that’s all part of it.

In any case, we are curious to see how far Cisco can simplify its offerings. Not only by renaming products, but also by merging them. Within the Security Cloud, that works pretty well, with the recent announcement of Cisco XDR and the announcements this week of Cisco Secure Access (SSE) and the extensions to Panoptica (CNAPP) as clear examples. However, the networking portfolio is a bit more complex. Cisco has its work cut out for itself, that’s for sure.