An Intelligent Network. What Is It?

How does an intelligent network affect you? Do you care how you’re able to read this blog post as long as it is delivered efficiently and loads quickly? Let’s dive deeper. As you consume information available on the World Wide Web, use the various enterprise apps at work, and browse training videos, do you ever wonder about how the content is delivered to you? Think about the various technologies and network services that may have impacted how this blog was delivered to you and the path it took from the app server to your laptop, iPhone, Blackberry, android phone, or tablet.

I was reading some of my older blogs, which I had posted when I was part of Cisco’s push into the enterprise social networking market and was wondering how much of that is still relevant today. About a year and a half later, Facebook’s IPO underscores the importance of human networks and information sharing atop intelligent networks, resulting in a more productive workforce and an enlightened human race due to the availability of information and how quickly it can be consumed. So what do I mean by an “intelligent network” and what problem is it trying to solve? As with any system designed to carry content, modern day networks suffer from bandwidth constraints, traffic prioritization challenges, and ensuring consistency across multiple networks.

If you step back and look at the bigger picture, the task of delivering information over computer networks is seemingly very simple. It’s all about getting information from point A, where it is hosted, to point B, where it is consumed, over a network that knows how to route information between the two points. Upon close analysis though, changes in the various ways enterprises host applications and the changing expectations of consumers are making an apparently easy task complex. For instance, modern day enterprise employees won’t compromise on the quality of experience for business applications and they also expect to be able to access enterprise apps in numerous ways.  A big part of the whole challenge is around application and service delivery of business-critical applications with stringent service level objectives (SLO) for metrics such as end user experience and how the network, which is responsible for the delivery of these applications, can rise to the challenge and do its part in assuring delivery of such applications.

Business-critical applications have a strong correlation with business operations, productivity, and profitability. CIOs favor networking vendors who deliver platforms and solutions that are sufficient for not only delivering traditional “plumbing” needs, but can also host services, be application aware, and intelligently treat and deliver applications critical to the business.

Cisco, with its offering of the Application Visibility & Control (AVC) solution on its integrated services routers (ISR) and aggregation services routers (ASR) has taken giant strides towards embedding intelligence into its platforms (and therefore the network) to identify, analyze and optimize application traffic without requiring the installation of external agents. This makes a Cisco network not just application aware and intelligent but also very cost effective and helps network admins avoid some of the pitfalls of transitioning hosting of applications to more centralized locations such as the enterprise data center or a virtual private cloud. Using AVC, enterprises can define, monitor, and control the quality of the end user experience being delivered to remote branches, and isolate issues at a user, branch, network, or data center level. Service providers can provide a central portal for their hundreds of customers and help them monitor their service level agreements (SLAs) around application usage and experience. Institutions such as universities can monitor and control application bandwidth consumption and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) such as bandwidth consumption at a per student level.

What about reporting? A reporting solution that can collect data from multiple AVC sources and present end-to-end visibility along the horizontal (DC-WAN-aggregation-WAN-branch-LAN-user) and vertical (network infrastructure-applications-services-user) stacks can help network administrators overcome some of the challenges associated with application delivery in the enterprise. Cisco Prime Assurance Manager is a reporting solution that can aggregate data from multiple AVC sources and present this complete picture for network administrators  (see example report below) .

Cisco Prime Assurance Manager provides network-based end-to-end application, end user experience, and infrastructure health visibility.

So, hopefully I have spurred you to think about the role of the network in ensuring application delivery and enhancing your end user experience before you browse away from this blog and get ready to read another one.  Spare a few moments and think about the magic that happens behind the scenes to deliver that next blog to you.

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