IT departments are often caught between the requests of users who want the latest and greatest technology right now—even if it’s not perfect—and users who value reliable and consistent IT services above all else.
How can you serve both types of users without wasting time, energy, budget, and everyone’s patience? In Cisco IT, we’ve done it by creating the Advanced Cisco Experience (ACE) network. Operating ACE separately from our production network, we use it to introduce new IT services and products to a group of technology specialists before we deploy those services company-wide. These services include new releases of Cisco unified communications, collaboration, video, and mobility technology products that our employees use to work the way they want, across different devices and locations, which drives gains in user productivity.
Of course, building and operating a separate service introduction network isn’t feasible for all Cisco customers. Still, for large enterprise IT departments, such a network can expand on lab testing by giving you a realistic picture of usage for new products or services. At Cisco we regularly gather many valuable insights that help us improve our deployment and support plans for IT production services. Because of the testing and feedback generated from the ACE network and its users, we’re able to deploy new network services faster and with less risk of disruption. Advanced technology users gain access to the technology quicker, while users of production services get a better experience and more reliable service.
For example, the ACE team works with production network teams to synchronize plans at the network architecture and design level in order to identify risks and roadblocks as well as work through dependencies when a service transitions from testing to production. The teams also resolve issues about network resource management, such as defining rules about the number of simultaneous HD video calls in a local office in order to avoid over-provisioning circuit bandwidth and to define QoS correctly. By handling calls from ACE users, our internal helpdesk can learn about and prepare for the user support issues that may arise in the production service.
There are drawbacks to running two networks in parallel; most important among these is the need to guard against creating isolated islands of services that raise barriers to user communication. To ensure the best possible user experience, we integrate the dial plan and user directories across both networks and the engineering-led Alpha networks. This integration means that all of our users, regardless of communication platform, can use the same dialing patterns and click-to-communicate features that are so important for a positive user experience.
You’ll learn more about the products and services we test on the ACE network in a series of upcoming posts. In the meantime, read the service introduction network case study to learn more about the ACE program and how we are using it to improve Cisco IT services.