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The Cisco DNA of Wireless Networking

During the early days of human evolution, humans could not communicate, were more focused on self and depended on physical strength to survive. Slowly as they evolved they developed good language interface to connect with others. Language and writing can be seen as analogous to the very first versions of GUI. Gradually, they learned to share and evolved into a collaborative society. This helped them use resources effectively.

The digital journey of networks is not much different than the history of mankind. In early days network devices were standalone physical devices without any fancy user interface. They were performing all functions of control plane and data plane individually. In the wireless world, these are the original access points, which were, pretty much limited in performance by their underlying hardware platform. Each access point was configured and managed individually. The only available interface was command line.

The next generation of wireless evolved towards a collaborative community-like architecture with the introduction of wireless controllers. Controllers helped in network scaling, re-use by separation of some control functionality and easier management of the access points. Unlike Neanderthals, access points did not need to be self sufficient or physically superior to function efficiently. They could collaborate with wireless controllers. Wireless networks also developed language a.k.a. Graphical user interface (GUI). The GUI made it easier to communicate with each wireless controller and manage the access points connected to the controller. Evolution of a UI was a big leap in the evolution of wireless network.

Now with Cisco’s recently announced Digital Network Architecture (DNA), we stand on the cusp of collaboration at a larger scale where focus is on brain rather than brawn. Similar to the evolution of human society, wireless networks are evolving to meet thewlan-303722_960_720 need for faster scale than ever before. With the use of Cisco Prime and a centralized network control, like Cisco APIC-EM, it shall be possible to manage a network comprised of many wireless network devices. The DNA journey will continue to move forward with virtualization by introducing virtualized controllers completely detached from the physical device. We already see examples of this now with Cisco Wireless LAN Controllers that can be deployed virtually anywhere, including virtual machines or traditional appliances. This greater degree of collaboration will provide horizontal scalability and fault tolerance. Just as every human society needs a leader with excellent communication skills, so does a wireless network. That capability will be filled with an intuitive GUI specially designed to orchestrate virtual wireless controllers.

As is evident from the history of mankind, closed communities could not flourish as much as open communities who were ready to adapt and collaborate with other communities. Within the Cisco DNA framework, wireless networks will follow suit with a software defined wireless control plane, which can be orchestrated together with the control planes of other network devices (e.g. switches and routers), so that policies can be automated consistently network-wide. In addition this wireless control plane will adapt to requirements of different market segments like enterprise and Managed Service providers. It shall also be flexible enough to integrate with existing monitoring platforms like Prime or future data telemetry platforms.

Of late humans have become more eager to take control of their destiny and predict their future with the latest innovations in artificial intelligence. Likewise, the wireless domain will leverage innovations, such as predictive analytics to make network management and troubleshooting more deterministic with the goal of 100% accuracy. Achieving this aspirational goal for wireless will signify an important milestone for Cisco DNA. With DNA we are on the road to a brave new networking future, and wireless is an integral part of that future.

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  1. When I hear the term “collaborative community-like architecture” I simultaneously cheer and cringe. I cheer, because it means that we are breaking down the silos and moving towards an integration path that mean it will be easier and more straight forward to deploy and I cringe because I worry that the security and operations part of the equation has been tossed aside for expediency sake. Worse, making the communities communicate together means ensuring that the bad actors are properly sandboxed. This is especially true in “communities” that need to ensure they are not spilling information (and it is not just the government that I am talking about – I don’t want anyone randomly accessing my systems either).

    I look forward to hearing more about the move to pure wireless. As a network professional, I am still not 100% convinced that it is the entire (only?) answer.

    • Hi David,
      I just read an article about Cisco’s newest security stance, which addresses many of your (and my) concerns around WiFi security. Network Behavior Analysis (NBA) which was around in 2009 with companies like SourceFire, Lancope, Mazu etc. first addressed this concern to my knowledge with their in depth analytics and monitoring. Cisco has since embraced this technology and made it pervasive with their NGFW, ISE, NetFlow, etc. giving you a single pane of glass to see network behaviors and stop them rather than just alerting by following the trail, seeing anomalies, and staying with the flows rather than only seeing some action at a single point.

    • Thanks for the comment David. We will implement role based access across wired and wireless users. I would like to know more about your ask for pure wireless. What would you like to see in that solution?