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The Network of the Future: Where We’re Going


February 19, 2018 - 4 Comments

In his blog Future IT: The Who, How, What, and Why, our CIO, Guillermo Diaz, describes how our IT organization can keep operations running smoothly while also becoming a machine of continuous innovation. The short story: the best people and teams will work in dynamic and agile ways to drive continuous innovation and deliver unprecedented outcomes.

Woven through that definition is a network that’s intent based, secure, simple to manage, and makes it much easier to innovate. How will this network of the future be different from today’s? Until now, network innovations have focused on speed and scale. Today, speeds reach 100Gbps per link, and time-tested routing protocols interconnect the many autonomous systems on the Internet. The network of the future will be smarter as well as faster—automating everything and collecting data about everything that happens. That intelligence is what will bring about the unprecedented business outcomes promised by Future IT, like faster innovation, cost optimization, and reduced security vulnerabilities.

Here are some of the network innovations we’re working on now and over the next 1-3 years.

Intent-based Networking

Our goal: Accelerate network service provisioning for our business teams and increase security. To make that happen we need to transition entirely away from command line interfaces and manual network configuration.

The network of the future will:

  • Understand our intent, which we express in natural language. If our intent is “Quarantine endpoints attacking our e-commerce site,” the network configures itself with the appropriate device-specific configuration.
  • Constantly monitor and analyze network activity to accomplish our business intent. Has an application’s bandwidth requirements increased? The network of the future adapts to evolving requirements and adds security services if needed.
  • Be managed as a system rather than as individual devices. Systemwide management saves time and makes policies more consistent.

Advanced Security

Our goal: Continually improve identification, tracking, and blocking of evolving security threats. Advanced security is becoming even more critical as we connect to more clouds services and deploy IoT devices. Already, more than 1.5 million entities connect to our network.

The network of the future will:

  • Be a multifactorial sensor. We can view the network and everything happening on it, end-to-end and in-depth.
  • Detect service attacks or malware streams using statistical analysis and machine learning.
  • Block and remove threats, even in encrypted traffic, without waiting for a human.
  • Provide granular control over what information employees can access—and also over what less-trusted endpoints (guest, contractor, and IoT devices) can connect to.

Data Insights

Our goal: Collect and analyze everything that happens in the network in real-time to improve the experience, cost-efficiency, and security.

The network of the future will:

  • Manage and optimize capacity by understanding our traffic patterns in depth, enabling us to balance outstanding user experience with cost efficiency.
  • Predict problems before they happen, fixing them quickly—or, better, preventing them entirely.
  • Quickly find the source of faults that affect the business: application, compute/storage, or the network.
  • Collect and analyze data where it exists instead of moving it over the network.

Programmable Devices

Our goal: Speed up new service introduction. Decoupling network function creation from new hardware deployment increases agility, lowers OpEx, and dramatically reduces time to capability.

The network of the future will:

  • Run network services (firewall, IDS/IPS, etc.) as virtual machines or containers. Provisioning takes just a few clicks.
  • Deliver business applications from branch office routers to keep traffic off the WAN and improve performance.
  • Allow a network device to auto-configure itself when it attaches to the network for the first time.
  • Support API access for data extraction, configuration, and control.

A New WAN Architecture Designed for Cloud Traffic

Our goal: Lower network operations costs, improve connectivity to cloud services, increase security, and increase visibility. WAN traffic patterns are changing. We’re using almost 1000 cloud services—and rising. More than 25% of traffic from our campuses and branch offices heads to public clouds. So why move all that traffic through our data centers?

The network of the future will:

  • Securely connect to Tier-1 ISPs and also directly peer with large content providers.
  • Provide detailed visibility into WAN performance, allowing us to construct our WAN with a combination of technologies and reliability levels.
  • Intelligently route traffic to the right WAN link based on cost/quality trade-offs. For example, we’ll direct Cisco TelePresence traffic to the fastest WAN link and application traffic that’s not time-sensitive to less expensive links.

New Culture, Modelled on DevOps

Our goal: Empower IT teams to innovate faster. As our CIO is fond of saying, the new era of networking is enabled by technology, but it’s powered by culture.

Network teams of the future will:

  • Operate like DevOps teams, focusing on continuous innovation and rapid delivery. They spend much of their time programming the network to understand our business intent and make it happen.
  • Work in dynamic (not static) teams. The best resources for a project will come together for the duration of the project and then disband. Our teams already work closely with business application teams to align IT with the business.
  • Continue to add software development skills to complement their existing network engineering skillsets.

Stay tuned for more on how we’re ushering in the new era of networking. My next blog will focus on our new WAN architecture. As always, let me know if you’d like me to cover any specific topics.



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4 Comments

  1. Wow great reading Ben, rock on!

  2. Awesome Information and i am glad that i am part of this generation where continuous and adaptable changes will will take place.

  3. Thank you Ben for publishing this ! Many of our customers are also starting down this journey. Each one of these points is a topic in itself and I'm looking forward to hearing more !

  4. Great start, Ben! I am sure in your next blog posts, you will expand the section "Data insights" to answer a couple of key questions: 1. What contexts the network of the future will collect that can be made available programatically to business applications - for deliver ing context-aware experiences to customers, partners, employees? 2. Why/How the network of the future is IoT ready? thanks