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Data, edge computing, the IoT and the natural step towards the (multi)cloud are the most important subjects on which the major network, storage and cloud suppliers focus today. During the recently held annual high mass Cisco Live for the EMEAR region this was no different, we conclude after a visit to the event. However, this supplier is now showing a portfolio that stretches from the (IoT) edge to the (multi)cloud, both in terms of hardware and software.

Recently, we have written about the trend that large network, storage and cloud providers are increasingly focusing on software solutions and technology for connecting the various business infrastructures. Hardware in the traditional form of server, computer and storage capacity is, of course, still supplied, but it is no longer the dominant feature in the entire range and is actually becoming a welcome basis for the entire software portfolio.

The absolute core of this transition is data, the new oil for network and cloud suppliers as well as their customers. A fully software-based network environment is the driving force behind this. From the edge, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) – we will come back to this later – through the on-premise or hybrid data centre to the (multi)cloud environments of hyperscalers such as AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) or those of other providers. It is software that efficiently and automatically interconnects everything everywhere, enables management and provides insight. This enables customers to get the most out of their networks and business opportunities for their companies.

Datacenter Anywhere

At Cisco Live in Barcelona, this was no different. Also, during this big event with more than 15.000 participants, everything was dominated by data as the new gold and how this can help companies and their customers grow in various ways. Cisco shows that it is also increasingly becoming a company with software-based solutions or platforms. It will continue to provide its own hardware, which gives the company a solid foundation on which to build with various software products.

Data is now so central to Cisco that all solutions have to be adapted accordingly. Changes will mainly come through software, but hardware will also do its part. For the supplier, the data that is stored everywhere are actually the places where the data center, which is the crucial core of networks nowadays, must be located. Hence the now presented slogan ‘Datacenter Anywhere’.

Under this strategy, also known as the ‘data fabric’, Cisco assumes that the latest generation of applications determines what data centres actually are, support and should support. So where the applications with the data are created, processed and used, in the supplier’s view, the data centre should also be present. No longer standard at a central location that is still often used today.

Users must be able to roll out their applications according to their needs and not allow themselves to be held back by technological limitations, said Senior VP and General Manager Roland Accra of Cisco’s Datacentre Business Group in his keynote, with his voice hoarse by enthusiasm. According to him, they want to be able to manage their applications and data on various platforms, from on-premise to (multi)cloud environments. Of course, Cisco wants to help its customers with this.

The presented ‘Datacenter Anywhere architecture’ is, of course, accompanied by the necessary automation functions. According to Cisco, the automation of the announced network architecture is absolutely necessary. This is in order to reduce the complexity of the resulting networks, to increase the possibilities for connecting the various (multi)cloud environments quickly and easily and, of course, to achieve greater security at various levels; wherever data is located.

Step-by-step expansion of ACI to the (multi)cloud

Cisco launched a number of novelties during the event in Barcelona. Immediately after the announcement, we wrote about the optimized software-defined networking (SDN) layer that is present throughout the data center stack. In the first place, it concerns the extension of the Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) automation architecture to (multi)cloud environments. This software-based architecture can further simplify network management and increase the mobility of the various important applications. The ACI architecture allows users to run any workload, at any location and in any cloud environment.

HyperFlex and CloudCenter Suite

Another announcement focuses on Cisco’s Hyperflex Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) solution. Within this portfolio, HyperFlex for Branche announced that the HCI platform would be extended to, for example, branch offices or branches of companies. These are, therefore, locations where traditional data centre environments are not available. With the solution now presented, these locations will also have access to distributed compute and storage from the core data centers all the way to the edge of the corporate network. In this way, these locations benefit from ‘datacentre-class application performance’ such as analytics and other intelligent services. All managed by Insight in the SDN layer.

The latest announcement within the ACI framework concerns the software layer for managing all hardware and SDN solutions towards the (multi)cloud environments, CloudCenter Suite. This management solution now also includes application lifecycle management, workflow automation, cost optimisation, to manage and orchestrate applications within (multi)cloud environments more efficiently and, of course, to reduce complexity and costs.

In addition, Cisco has introduced changes to its licensing model so that users can now enter into a standard three- or five-year licensing agreement for solutions from as many as seven product groups, including ACI and HyperFlex. In short, a lot of new applications that allow companies to focus on their data within their business operations.

Intent Based Networking to the IoT edge

Not only does Cisco now bring its ACI infrastructure to the edge of the network, but the Internet of Things (IoT) will also play a more important role in the network strategy of the American supplier.

During the event, the company announced its intention to expand its Intent Based Networking (IBN) architecture to the edge environment and especially the IoT. IBN ensures that networks are developed and executed in a way that makes it possible to automate many lengthy manual steps for network management. This includes applying machine learning that ‘learns’ how companies use their networks for business purposes and ‘translates’ this into the most optimal network policies.

Cisco’s solutions for the IoT edge are hardware applications in the form of dedicated robust switches and routers, concept examples for different business sectors, and a development and training environment within the Cisco DevNet community environment.

Automation, more flexibility and better security

By adding IBN to the edge of the network, the vendor hopes to achieve a number of things for users to manage the entire network, from the IoT to the various (multi)cloud environments. Among other things, the roll-out of IoT applications must now be fully automated using tools like DNA Center. This allows complex deployment processes to be carried out in a short period of time. Cisco Kinetic, among others, plays a major role in this for the IoT edge, including for device management and application/container management.

In addition, the arrival of IBN at the IoT edge should ensure that users have more flexibility with a network design consisting of various modules, to which various other Cisco network components can be added if desired. Think of an extension to mobile networks, such as 5G, without having to rebuild their entire network.

During Cisco Live in Barcelona, Cisco did not yet show what strategy they were going to adopt in the direction of 5G. According to spokespersons, the company will save this for the Mobile World Congress 2019 at the end of this month. More about that another time.

The announced expansion of the IBN architecture should now also offer a total security layer for users on the IoT-edge. This layer is embedded in every part of the IoT stack, from sensors or devices and operating systems to the various apps for edge computing.

A clear distinction from competitors

At his major EMEAR event, Cisco clearly showed its strategy and where it wants to go in the coming years. Not surprisingly, everything is going to be software, just like the competitors do. What is distinctive, however, is that Cisco is now really extending its software-defined networking to the entire network environment, from the edge to the various hyperscale (multi)cloud environments. In short, as it indicates, wherever the data is located. All of this, of course, with the necessary automation solutions and security.

In addition, the American supplier’s explicit attention to the developments surrounding the IoT and how it should be integrated into the future infrastructures of companies is also striking. This is how Cisco is currently clearly distinguishing itself from its competitors. We are looking forward to seeing what more Cisco will come up with this year.