We see our customers across a range of industries are striving to become digital enterprises. Easier said than done in today’s hyper distributed environments. With over 14 billion devices online today and 50 billion expected by 2020, the exponential increase of data is being created by people and processes connecting from everywhere. It is becoming harder to reach that data, secure that data, and much less draw an insight and enable a person or process to take action on the data. The ability to secure, aggregate, automate, and draw insights from an organization’s own data – with speed – will define value for that organization.
At Cisco, we are making investments in software for analytics and automation to enable our customers to pull data from everywhere for real-time insights, integrate and automate increasingly complex systems and processes, and engage people in context. This is what it means to be a digital enterprise. This new blog platform will serve as an open forum for discussion on multiple topics related to analytics and automation, news and updates from Cisco as well as stories of success from our customers and partners.
I encourage you to actively participate by sharing your own challenges, best practices and topics you would like to see explored.
Not surprisingly, as a networking company Cisco frequently publishes predictions on the growth of Internet traffic. Bragging unintended, typically the forecasts are pretty accurate. In a 2012 report we predicted that by 2017 there would be 2.5 devices and related connections for every person on earth, while there would be 5 devices and related connections for every Internet user in the same year. In the same report, we also predicted that this burst in hyperconnectivity – including machine to machine connections that are increasingly prevalent with growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) – would create more global network traffic in 2017 alone than in all prior “Internet years” combined.
How correct were our predictions? You don’t have to wait until 2017 for an answer. Welcome to the early arrival of the future of networked communications – a future where the hyper-distribution of information is driving new business demands, and where the old rules of data management and analytics no longer apply. Data is no longer passive. Central stores of stale information aren’t sufficient. Analytics can’t be an afterthought. The new rules require that you live your business daily on the edge of your network, where vital customer and market data is created. And you need to be prepared to respond to what you learn immediately. Are you ready to live on the edge?
The Future is Now . . . Like it or Not
Pervasive connectivity and ubiquitous cloud services have reset user expectations for all types of products and services. A wider and wider variety of connected endpoints combined with mobile and cloud service delivery expands both the kinds and types of data generated by and about users, as well as the devices and the processes that connect them. Data may come from various sources – operations, infrastructure, sensors, etc. Machine intelligence will become better and better, replacing human reasoning in some cases. And, like humans, machines will develop deeper and deeper insights through continuous learning over time. The good news is that increasingly intelligent machines will free humans for even bigger thinking – and the process will keep repeating itself – machines and humans cooperating for a more intelligent whole.
But the network’s edge ultimately belongs to the end-user. Consumers are well positioned to define and demand a technology experience that meets their specific requirements. Enterprises undergoing digital transformation understand this. Using IT automation, these companies are moving intelligence and analytics to the edge of the network to understand how to benefit from this new perspective. Put simply, analysis is moving to where the data is generated for instant business insights.
The list of challenges for companies coping with the nature and the speed of digital transformation is a long one. Here are a few of the most critical:
The variety of data on the network increases with every new application used
High velocity, valuable information from market data, mobile, sensors, clickstream, transactions and other sources requires a new approach to data management
Almost universal connectivity has reset user expectations for all types of services
Data insights are often perishable and need to be acted on immediately
Competitive pressures and increasing customer expectations require that businesses anticipate customer needs, react instantly, and make decisions in real-time
Click image to view a larger version of this graphic
Shape the Edge to Your Requirements
Enterprises of all kinds are responding to these challenges in innovative ways to gain competitive advantage. One example is retailers, which I profiled in an earlier blog on the future of shopping. Merchants understand that the longer a shopper remains in a store the more likely the prospect is to purchase. So, if a retailer can increase a shopper’s “dwell time,” it is more likely to stimulate a purchase. We’re seeing retailers do this today as they measure where, how and why buyers make decisions on the path to purchase starting at the network’s edge. Through customized applications that permit the retailer to analyze real-time customer engagement with products or in-store displays, the retailer gains immediate insights that let it customize a promotional offer by individual and then push the offer instantly to the consumer’s device. This sort of personalized interaction also creates a better customer experience.
From a service provider’s perspective, knowing the habits of your mobile customers can help it improve service delivery, lower costs and enhance customer loyalty. Again, this knowledge starts at the edge of the network by analyzing continuous feedback on the use habits of mobile subscribers. For example, a service provider can determine unique and new clients, analyze usage by day, week or month, gather active session information to identify network usage patterns or manage promotional programs, determine authenticated vs. unauthenticated associations to identify potential subscribers, or grab information on total data usage to pinpoint network anomalies or usage spikes. These and other edge measurements can then be further analyzed for trends. Automation enables the analysis. The analysis, in turn, creates fast decision-making, which leads to concrete business outcomes.
The Way Forward . . .
If you believe living on the edge is vital to your business, it’s important to have a strategic framework in which to manage your digital transition. First, think of your analytics’ needs in three parts: 1. Real time analysis; 2. Data management; 3. Flexibility of use. Then, demand that the analytics solution you choose to move forward with addresses the requirements for each part as I describe below:
1. Real Time Analysis
Predictive analytics integration
2. Data Management
Ability to combine information from network and applications
Seamlessly query live and historic data
Historic reporting framework
Analysis of complex queries from fact streams and dimensional data
North/south and east/west interfaces for customization
Living on the edge of your network doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, you’ll come to like the speed at which you’ll find new business insights. Cisco can help in your transformation to a digital business with automation and analytics at its core. I plan to share more on this topic at the Cisco Data and Analytics Conference on October 20-22 in Chicago. I hope you can join me at that time.
Meanwhile, I’m interested to hear how you feel about the importance of managing and analyzing data at the edge of your network. What are the issues and opportunities that you see?
It seems people sometimes have this view of SDN as addressing rather esoteric use cases and situations. However, the reality is that while there are instances of ‘out there stuff’ happening, there are many situations where we see customers leverage the technology to address pretty straightforward issues. And these issues are often similar across different business/vertical/customer types.
Aftab Rasool is Senior Manager, Data Center Infrastructure and Service Design Operations for Du. I recently had the chance to talk with him about Cisco’s flagship SDN solution – Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) – and Du’s experience with it. I found there were many instances of Du using ACI to simply make traditional challenges easier to deal with.
Du is an Information & Communications Technology (ICT) company based in Dubai. They offer a broad range of services to both consumer and business markets, including triple play to the home, mobile voice/data, and hosting. The nature of their business means the data center, and thus the data center network, is critical to their success. They need a solution to effectively handle challenges of both deployment, as well as operations…and that’s where ACI comes in.
I’ll quickly use the metaphor of driving to summarize the challenges Aftab covers in the video. He addresses issues that are both ‘in the rear view mirror’ as well as ‘in the windshield’ – with both being generalizable to lots of other customers. What I mean is that there are issues from the past that, though they are largely behind the car and visible in the mirror, still impact the driving experience. There are also issues on the horizon that are visible through the windshield, but are just now starting to come into focus and have effect.
Rear view mirror issues – These are concepts as basic as scalability associated with spanning tree issues, or sub optimal use of bandwidth, also due to spanning tree limitations. These issues are addressed with ACI, as there is no spanning tree in the fabric, and the use of Equal Cost Multi Pathing (ECMP) allows use of all links. Additionally, use of BiDi allows use of existing 10G fiber plant for 40G upgrades, thus obviating the expense and hassle of fiber upgrades. As a result, the ACI fabric, based on Nexus 9000’s, provides all the performance and capacity Du needs.
Windshield issues – These are represented by a range of things that result from business’s need for speed, yet are diametrically opposed by the complexity of most data centers. The need for speed through automation is becoming more and more critical, as is simplifying the operating environment, particularly as the business must scale. Within this context, Aftab mentioned both provisioning and troubleshooting.
Provisioning: Without ACI, provisioning involved getting into each individual switch, making requisite changes – configuring VLANs, L3, etc. It also required going into L4-7 services devices to assure they were configured properly and worked in concert with the L2 and L3 configurations. This device by device configuration not only was time consuming, but created the potential for human error. With ACI, these and other types of activities are automated and happen with a couple of clicks.
Troubleshooting: Before ACI, troubleshooting was complicated and time consuming, in part because they had to troll through each switch, look at various link by link characteristics to check for errors, etc. With ACI, healthscores make it easy and fast to pinpoint where the challenge is.
Please take a few minutes to check out what Aftab has to say about these, and other aspects of his experience with ACI at Du.
Are you looking to deliver an intelligent, dynamic and highly optimized programmable network where applications have control in how they explicitly traverse the end-to-end network?
If so, you have probably been watching the Application Engineered Routing story unfold since it was launched in March 2015. For those of you following this developing chapter in the end-to-end application control play book, you might have read the past few blogs by my colleague, Frederic Trate (here and here) or even watched Dave Ward, Cisco CTO and Chief Architect, present on engineering the network for applications on the main stage at MPLS World Congress 2015 earlier this year (see Featured Content).Read More »
A reminder of the fact that we’ll be doing a webinar tomorrow on this topic, and
A general observation regarding SDN making the world a better place (don’t roll your eyes yet. There’s beer involved. Well, kind of. Read on…)
The webinar is called “How To Simplify and Automate Your Data Center With Cisco’s SDN Strategy” and its tomorrow, September 15, 2015 at 10am PST. You can register here. We’ll spend a few minutes talking about ACI, then much of the time on Programmable Fabric and Programmable Networks. As the webinar name would imply, we’ll cover some cool tools that help make your life easier, if you have something to do with deploying and operating networks in a data center. We’ll have at least one demo and relate the technology back to some use cases, showing how SDN can be applied in practical ways.
As you consider the evolution of SDN over the past few years, its more or less gone from this thing with a limited definition (separation of control plane from data plane, etc.) that was kind of a solution looking for a problem, to a more loosely defined set of capabilities that are having real impact. There are still folks who define as SDN as “Still Does Nothing”, but I think that – even if you wipe away the hype from the media, analysts, vendors, etc. – SDN is making business more effective and helping make peoples lives better. I’m not talking like feeding the hungry, creating global peace type “make peoples lives better”.
I’m talking about the fact that most jobs have a certain amount of stuff that is cool/interesting/challenging/fun and another part that, well, just has to get done. The part that can be boring/laborious/mind numbing. A long time ago, I used to run a network. I would copy and paste configs from one box, make a few changes to IP addresses, or interface numbers, or ACLs, or maybe route redistribution metrics, or whatever – and paste them to another box. Rinse, repeat. Many times. This was tedious stuff. And for the most part, not very interesting. Any activity with a lot of copy and pasting is probably better done by a machine than a human. But a lot of people are still running their networks in pretty much the same way.
There is a better way. SDN can help you minimize the ‘just have to get it done’ part of your job, so you can spend more time on stuff that is impactful and engaging. We will dig into this more tomorrow. So, maybe you won’t be displacing Mother Theresa, but you can make your world a better, more cool/interesting/challenging/fun place. And have more time to drink beer. Or do whatever it is you like to do. In any case, I hope you can be there.