Cisco announced the long-awaited integration between the company’s flagship switching portfolio, Catalyst, and the popular Meraki management cloud.
Recently, network market leader Cisco held its annual event, Cisco Live, in Las Vegas. It’s been three years since the network giant held the event in an in-person format and the first in the era of hybrid work.
Historically, Cisco has used the event to launch new switches, routers, security devices and other new products. While the 2022 edition of Cisco Live certainly had its fair share of products, such as the new Nexus switches highlighted in my latest ZKast, much of Cisco’s innovation was aimed at making the day-to-day job of IT pros easier.
Below are what I consider to be the top five innovations introduced at Cisco Live 2022.
Catalyst-Meraki Integration Creates “Best of Both Worlds”
While there was plenty of news in most of Cisco’s product areas, the one that stole the show was the long-awaited integration between the company’s flagship switching portfolio, Catalyst, and the popular Meraki management cloud.
Catalyst has been the network industry’s most widely deployed switching product for decades, while Meraki could be considered the most successful acquisition by Cisco over the past decade.
Catalyst has been the preferred switching platform for customers that have complex networking needs, while Meraki is best for lean IT shops or for customers that want to leverage the best-in-class cloud management capabilities. Historically, customers had to choose, but the integration creates a “best of both worlds” scenario.
Initially, customers will have visibility of Catalyst devices in the Meraki dashboard, which helps with troubleshooting and maintenance. Cisco will bring some Catalyst configuration capabilities to Meraki but what that looks like is still being developed. The initial cloud management option is available for the Catalyst 9000 and 9300 switch series.
Cisco also announced a new series of Cisco Catalyst 9100 Wi-Fi access points, which can boot either Catalyst or Meraki. Customers can manage these APs via Meraki management or Cisco’s DNA management tool. Over time, Cisco will release other network devices with this dual boot option, giving customers better management and hardware choices.
Cisco U Learning Platform
The Cisco Learning and Certification programs have become the de facto standard in the network industry.
Cisco certifications, like the Cisco Certified Internetworking Engineer (CCIE), are highly sought-after credentials that give networking pros a seal of approval. The evolution to Cisco U is the biggest change in the history of the program and is reflective of the shift in the skills required to run a network.
Historically, Learning at Cisco focused on the network; more specifically, the Cisco network. Cisco U is a digital learning program that offers both online and in-person classes and learning tools for Cisco technology, and also adjacent topics.
In a pre-briefing, Par Merat, VP of Cisco Learning and Certifications, showed me the dashboard and there were classes on Google Cloud, AWS, HashiCorp and others. This is a realization that technology does not live in isolation. A skilled network professional needs to be well versed in Cisco tech but also many others, and Cisco U is designed to be the single platform to educate. Cisco plans to make Cisco U an open platform so any vendor, even competitors, can populate the digital forum with educational content.
WAN Insights Enables Proactive Management
At the show, Cisco announced ThousandEyes WAN Insights, a product that can predict network events to prevent outages and provide guidance on how to configure a network for optimal performance. ThousandEyes is an excellent Internet monitoring tool and Cisco is marrying that data with SD-WAN information. WAN Insights uses machine learning to make predictions as to when a performance issue might arise and provide guidance on how to prevent it.
This type of information is particularly valuable today as networks are built with resiliency in mind, so complete outages are rarer. A bigger problem are brownouts, where things are kind of working but not performing as expected. WAN Insights can show what has been “too wrong for too long” as the saying goes.
The first version of the product focuses on insights, but the goal is to create an automation layer that will allow the system to automate network changes based on those insights. Also, while this is initially for the WAN, Cisco will eventually roll this out across their portfolio.
AppDynamics, better known as “AppD,” is one of Cisco’s most under leveraged assets in its massive portfolio. Since being acquired, AppD has operated somewhat autonomously inside the Cisco machine but that appears to be changing.
Last year the company announced “full stack observability” when it brought ThousandEyes and AppD together. At Cisco Live, AppD stepped up its game with the launch of its new AppDynamics Cloud solution, which correlates telemetry data across cloud environments. These insights can be used to detect performance issues and remediate problems and puts companies like New Relic in the competitive crosshairs.
The new service is certainly of value but what’s more interesting is the potential this creates for the broader Cisco. The application data could be used to fuel the previously mentioned WAN Insights, enabling Cisco not just full stack observability but potentially full stack automation. Cisco is perhaps the only company that has granular data across the stack.
Webex-Ford Integration: Office On the Go
This announcement had the highest level of cool factor. When one entered the World of Solutions Exhibitor area, one of the first things on display was a Ford Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle.
Inside the car, Webex was running on the large dashboard display with the thought that the car will eventually be a viable office space. Today, Webex will only operate while the car is parked but it’s easy to envision a future where people could join a Webex in a fully autonomous vehicle. This also showcases an interesting feature in Webex called “Optimize for my voice” where the remote individual only hears the meeting participant. A worker could have a car full of kids talking and shouting at each other, with all the noise blocked except the speaker.
During the keynotes, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins was joined by Ford CEO Jim Farely, and he talked about how digitization is driving faster innovation. He made an interesting remark about how the new Mustang is less about being an EV and more about the underlying connected digital platform. Webex is part of that connected experience, but it appears Ford has much more coming.