This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter - Recent posts by Zeus Kerravala.

With a bevy of announcements, Cisco takes an architectural
approach to enabling digital transformation for businesses.

This week Cisco is holding it’s annual reseller event, Partner Summit, in San Diego. Similar to Cisco Live Europe, held earlier in February, the high level theme of the event is digital transformation. At the European event, Cisco announced a number of turnkey solutions to help organizations take advantage of digital trends, including Workspace Productivity and Digital Ceiling.

At Partner Summit 2016, Cisco is announcing the Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA), a framework to help customers leverage the network to empower business leaders to accelerate the shift to a digital organization. Cisco’s DNA (the architecture, not genetic makeup), is an open and software-based network-wide framework that spans the core, WAN, access edge, branch office and security. The new architecture was designed with the following customer considerations:

  • Investment protection: Leverages existing infrastructure and, where appropriate, includes the use of platform-independent software.
  • Minimized adoption risk: Through Cisco ONE Software, customers can adopt new features via ongoing license portability and flexible deployment models. Also, validated designs are integrated into the provisioning and management tools to ensure deployment success.
  • Open ecosystem: Over the years Cisco has been criticized for having solutions that were closed and proprietary. Cisco DNA is an open architecture that enables third-party companies to integrate into the infrastructure. Being more open is something Cisco has made a concerted effort to change over the past five years, and the results can be seen in the areas of data center, collaboration, security, and now DNA.
  • Simplified IT operations: The Cisco APIC-EM (Application Policy Infrastructure Controller Enterprise Module) abstracts the management and configuration of the network into a centralized management layer. APIC-EM also communicates with the application layer through APIs. Using APIC-EM, organizations can use business policies to automate operational tasks.
  • Training and support: Cisco provides training for partners and customers through certifications for engineers to meet the evolving needs of a digital-ready network. The skills needed to be successful in IT are quite different than in years past, and Cisco is adjusting its certification process accordingly.


Cisco’s Digital Network Architecture is built on the principles of virtualization, automation, analytics, and cloud — which are all designed to simplify the network, make IT more productive, and lower operational costs. Details on each principle follows.

Principle #1: Virtualize everything — Virtualization provides service elasticity for Cisco or third-party network functions everywhere via orchestration, resulting in faster service delivery, higher resource utilization and lower operational costs. Virtualization also gives customers the freedom to run on a variety of platforms.

Principle #2: Automate everything — Controllers provide network abstraction through APIs. They also deliver a consistent policy framework that allows IT to focus on business intent and automate provisioning, which speeds up application and service rollout while reducing risk.

Principle #3: Expose contextual analytics across the network — The network contains data that cannot be generated from any other source and can benefit both business and IT operations. Today, Cisco exposes user, application, and threat data with open APIs. Over time, customers can expect to have greater access to network insights to help drive better business decisions.

Principle #4: Service management delivered from the cloud — Cloud-based services provide on-demand scale and new consumption models, and they support a broad partner ecosystem, providing IT with faster service innovation and easier adoption.

Principle #5: Open, extensible and programmable at every layer — Open APIs and the DevNet program enable third parties to extend the value of Cisco DNA.

New Digital Services

Cisco DNA will be an on-going journey for the company. As the business climate continues to evolve, so will DNA. However, there needs to be a starting point to the architecture. At the event, Cisco announced the following new digital services:

Enterprise Network Functions Virtualization (E-NFV): To date, NFV has been a technology that has appealed primarily to service providers. E-NFV brings the benefits to the enterprise. IT enables network services to be decoupled from the underlying hardware platform by providing infrastructure software, virtualized network functions, and orchestration tools. Customers can deploy Cisco or third-party services either on Cisco purpose-built appliances or on UCS E-Series or UCS C-Series servers using the Cisco Enterprise Service Automation application.

Cisco Network Plug and Play (PnP): The PnP application provides a simple, secure and integrated solution for enterprise network customers to automate new branch or campus rollouts. The solution provides a unified approach to provisioning enterprise networks composed of Cisco routers and switches, as well as automating secure key management using a public key infrastructure (PKI).

Cisco Intelligent WAN (IWAN): The Cisco IWAN application on APIC-EM is Cisco’s software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) offering based on simple and intuitive policy definition of an application’s relevance to the business. The IWAN app delivers massively simplified automation and orchestration of Cisco IWAN deployments using a browser-based graphical user interface (GUI). The evolution to an SD-WAN can increase network agility but also save enterprises a significant amount of money.

Easy QoS: This feature leverages the APIC-EM controller to dynamically update QoS consistently across the network in just milliseconds, allowing IT to deliver a differentiated application experience. An example is the Nectar integration with Cisco Unified CallManager and Microsoft Lync, where APIC updates QoS.

Network as a Security Sensor and Enforcer: By embedding security across the wired and wireless network and clients, the network can detect threats faster to better protect business assets. The network as a sensor capability can be provisioned across the end-to-end network, from the end client to the cloud. The integration with TrustSec on devices allows the network to enforce policies and quarantine issues.

Cisco Connected Mobile Experiences (CMX) Cloud: This service provides customers with CMX presence analytics and connected services such as Wi-Fi onboarding, delivered via the cloud. It can be used to enable businesses to access CMX capabilities much faster and at a much lower cost.

Historically, Cisco has been the master of leveraging architectures to enable customers to solve complicated problems with Cisco technology. Think back to other successful architectures such as AVVID (architecture for voice, video and integrated data), SAFE (security architecture for enterprises) and Collaboration Architecture. Each of these architectures gave Cisco the ability to articulate the value of an end-to-end solution, enabling the company to create a value proposition that the rest of the field has a difficult time matching, and I expect DNA to do the same.

Since these announcements are being made at Partner Summit, I want to discuss the importance to Cisco’s partner community. Cisco has been pushing its partners to move “up the stack” and sell to a broader set of buyers than network operations. I’ve talked to many partners that have told me they can often get meetings with line of business managers or even corporate executives, but don’t really have a good talk track when they get in the meeting. Now they do, since almost every business leader has digital on the mind. ZK Research data shows that over 80% of organizations have a digital plan underway. Cisco DNA gives Cisco and its partners the ability to talk to these executives about an immediate pain point: going digital as fast as possible.

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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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