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This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala's blog.

It’s late June and school is almost out. High school seniors are getting ready for college, younger kids are planning end-of-year parties, and families are getting ready to head to Disney and other fun spots. However, fun isn’t just limited to kids – network managers are getting ready for their own fun in Florida sun, as Cisco Live this year heads to the heart of Disney, Orlando, Florida.

So, what should we expect to hear about at Cisco Live? I believe at this year’s conference, network administrators will get a big dose of simplification and automation as Cisco strives to make it easier for customers to turn on intelligent networks services and improve performance on converged networks.

This theme was actually a big part of Cisco Live London, and were a couple of the core principals behind the release of Cisco’s 3850 Unified Access Switch. The coming together of wired and wireless technologies means that customers no longer have to deploy a wired network with a wireless overlay and manage network services in parallel.

Continuing on with this theme, one of Cisco’s Developer Network partners, ActionPacked! Networks, has a free option of its LiveAction network management software available to Cisco customers purchasing Cisco 3850s and 4500s. The free option includes full functionality of LiveAction for 90 days and then a LiveAction 100-device real-time flow license key that doesn’t expire.

ActionPacked! is also offering a LiveAction free trial download where folks who download LiveAction 2.7 now get a free perpetual LiveAction 100-device real-time flow tool.

The unified access switch helps simplify network operations by converging the wired and wireless networks. Network managers can provision security and network policies once and have them deployed across the entire network, as opposed to performing the tasks twice in an overlay situation.

ActionPacked’s LiveAction Flow software makes it easier for network managers to find trouble spots on the network and gain a better understanding of traffic patterns. One of the keys to running a network that I stress over and over again to organizations looking to use the network strategically is to “know the network.” This means understanding traffic flows, normal baselines, what deviations from the baseline mean and how this impacts application performance. From the research I’ve done, under a quarter of companies truly know their network.

LiveAction Flow leverages Cisco flow data and provides a visual representation of network traffic and QoS behavior. The tool provides a topology view that allows network mangers to drill down on devices or even interfaces to get flow characteristics such as IP address, DSCP values and byte rates.

Managing networks has always been hard, but it’s getting harder due to the unpredictable nature of traffic today from consumer devices, video endpoints, unified communication, cloud computing and other network-centric applications. Troubleshooting the network has been much more of an art than a science, which is why 90% of the time taken to fix problems comes from just trying to identify the issue. Automation and simplification are huge themes in networking today but network managers can’t really achieve all the benefits from these themes unless the management tools provide higher levels of automation as well. Management tools have historically provided tremendous functionality, but with a steep learning curve. Tools like LiveAction provide a visual representation of the network and automate many of the tasks needed to troubleshoot networks.

With the movement toward software defined networks coming, I certainly expect simplification and automation to be themes we continue to hear about, but let’s not forget about the management tools.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.

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