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What Do IT Services and a Mission to Mars Have in Common?

- January 9, 2018 - 0 Comments

“It’s not rocket science,” some might say. But what we do in IT services actually has a lot in common with what it takes to launch a successful mission to Mars. It starts with a commitment to a bold vision and depends on thousands of engineers working tirelessly to make it real. This is especially true in the era of intelligent predictive services that Cisco launched last fall. I got to thinking about this when I heard rocket scientist Adam Steltzner talking about his work on the Curiosity Mars rover. As the video below shows, there are many similarities between how we approach our work in Cisco Services and what is required to land a car-sized rover on Mars:

Here are just a few of the parallels:

Using data to predict the future – As Adam says, “Before we ever land on Mars, we’ve landed on Mars over eight million times. Computer simulations, hand calculations—we use all of the data to predict the future.” Predicting the future is also a major focus of Cisco Services’ new capabilities. We use the accumulation of data from 20 years of customer scenarios, combined with analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to predict potential problems in our customers’ networks and continually optimize network performance.

Anticipating failure to prevent it – While a failure in a customer’s IT system may not be the same as a system failure for a space mission, business-critical downtime can cost millions of dollars in lost business and customer trust. Just as Adam Steltzner might fall asleep reviewing the risks and counting ways to die on the way to Mars, we use every tool in our possession to predict and prevent problems before they happen. We use machine learning to identify and learn from patterns of events that lead to failures so we can take action preemptively. We recently predicted a scenario in a top U.S. bank’s network 32 hours before it would have caused a major outage. Our goal is to identify and remediate issues before the customer even knows there might be a problem.

Learning from deep experience – Space exploration teams build every mission on what has worked and what has failed before. Likewise, Cisco has 50 million network installations to learn from. We sift through historical data from all these networks to understand risks. We build a “fingerprint” of each device we support so we can correlate thousands of parameters within the hardware, software, and features you are using. We have digitized the detection logic for thousands of known problems to automate issue detection. With these and other capabilities, we’re reducing customer downtime by up to 74 percent, resolving issues up to 41 percent faster, and reducing operational costs by up to 21 percent.

Building a collaborative culture of innovation – To “dare mighty things” you need a strong, diverse team and a culture of innovation. It’s not something that happens on-demand. It emerges from an environment where people have the freedom and flexibility to pursue their ideas and perfect them as a team. As Adam says, “There’s no single person whose single idea is as good as that idea bounced off of a collaborative team, colored, twisted, modified, edited, supercharged.”

One final similarity is that Adam and I are both looking “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Adam points out that, in the words of the aeronautics pioneer Theodore Von Kármán, the job of an engineer is to “create the world that has never been.” That’s a vision we share. For me, it means that I won’t rest until every customer’s network is running at peak efficiency, and zero downtime is the only acceptable goal.

 

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