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In collaboration with Vishal Gupta and Srinu Kalla

Most IT engineers can agree that device provisioning for new offices is tedious, time-consuming, and error-prone. Fortunately, our Cisco IT Customer Zero team—which tries out the latest Cisco solutions and integrations to prove value and share experiences—has discovered that it doesn’t need to be that way.

By leveraging the Plug & Play (PnP) capability in Cisco DNA Center, we’ve managed to slash provisioning time by over 50%, while improving the engineer/user experience, reducing configuration issues, and enhancing security.

 

Prior to PnP, provisioning new offices was tedious and error-prone

Before PnP, our process was manual and slow, with a high risk of producing errors. In the weeks before we set up a switch, engineers had to scour a 501-page playbook to find the right configuration for the device model and office size. They would then travel to the office and paste in the appropriate code snippets via the command-line interface (CLI).

During this process, engineers could easily type an incorrect character or miss a line/s of code. These types of mistakes were responsible for the vast majority of Day-1 problems. The process also required engineers to remain for Day-1 support.

 

PnP provides the ability to automate onboarding, eliminating errors and saving time

Today, Cisco DNA Center’s PnP capability allows us to onboard new sites much faster by automating the onboarding of devices and the configuration of underlay routing (Figure 1). Switches automatically connect to Cisco DNA Center and retrieve the correct template, based on their serial number and tags. Engineers no longer have to engage in the time-consuming activity of searching through the playbook for the right configuration. PnP also reduces the need to type command-line instructions and cut-and-paste blocks of code. We are now able to standardize our configuration with the use of templates and version control. Instead of using Microsoft Word or Excel spreadsheets, we can create templates that are used across multiple devices with the concept of variables allowing us to be adaptable to each device using templates and tags, saving time and ensuring compliance. Finally, with PnP, engineers no longer need to go on-site for Day-1 support.

 

Diagram of Day-0 provisioning with PnP
Figure 1: Day-0 provisioning with PnP

PnP enables zero-touch device provisioning – ensuring simplicity, security, and consistency:

  • Simplicity: When the device boots up for the first time, it automatically reaches out to the PnP Connect Cloud, then is redirected to Cisco DNA Center. From there, we can easily push the required Day-0 and Day-1 configs as well as the software images to the device—lowering the risk of an accidental input.
  • Security: The device securely connects to the PnP cloud via https and is verified and redirected using its product ID and serial number.
  • Consistency: This process enables a consistent workflow across all platforms— switches, routers, and wireless LAN controllers—regardless of the number of devices that need to be staged.

The Cisco IT Customer Zero team recently conducted a detailed value analysis to quantify the benefits of Cisco DNA Center PnP (Figure 2). Here is what the Customer Zero team found:

  • Significant time savings: PnP cut the provisioning time of wireless controllers by 54 percent—from 130 minutes using the manual approach, to 60 minutes using Cisco DNA Center with PnP. Similarly, PnP reduced onboarding time for Cisco Catalyst 9300/9400 switches by 43 percent—from 180 minutes manually to 77 minutes with PnP.
  • Enhanced NetOps experience: Because PnP does not require actual monitoring during device provisioning, only 45 percent of the provisioning process requires “active engineering time.” As a result, the experience is less tedious and stressful for network engineers.
  • Better end-user experience: By automating initial provisioning and underlay routing configurations, PnP ensures faster site readiness and seamless user onboarding.
  • Improved security: PnP enables end-to-end security, from Cisco DNA Center to network devices, from Day-0 to Day-N, with no physical access required.

 

A screenshot of Key findings: Cisco DNA Center Plug & Play benefits
Figure 2. Key findings: Cisco DNA Center Plug & Play benefits

The Cisco Customer Zero team is committed to exploring other ways that Cisco DNA Center PnP can further drive value by leveraging automation to fuel greater efficiency, better user experiences, and improved security. We are working towards initiatives such as configuration management across multiple Cisco DNA Centers and other automated use cases. Stay tuned…

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For more information:

Cisco DNA Center smooths network operations

5 ways automating software image management is making Cisco IT engineers’ lives better