Are intuitive networks the answer to complexity?

Enterprise IT customers are frazzled and frustrated, panicked and perplexed, says Cisco’s Dave Justice. IT professionals and vendors alike are under enormous pressure to ease those pain points — and that means making some big changes in network architecture.

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Right after striding onstage at Cisco Connect in Toronto recently, Dave Justice pulled up his pant leg to show off his socks.

Taking a cue from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Justice was strategically sporting some fancy ankle gear (in this case, a red-and-white maple leaf motif) to make his host city swoon.

Justice is Cisco’s senior VP of global security and enterprise networking sales. He explained that while he’s American, his wife was born in Toronto. Though they live in Silicon Valley, Justice wore the socks as a sartorial shout-out not only to his wife’s hometown, but also to the 3,000 Cisco staff and partners who gathered to hear him speak there.

What he proceeded to tell them is that it’s time for Cisco — and all large enterprise IT vendors, really — to pull up their socks.

Enterprise IT customers, said Justice, are frazzled and frustrated, panicked and perplexed. One of their chief complaints is that networks have become way too complex to manage and secure. With so many enterprises using multiple cloud and security providers, costs have also gotten way out of hand.

“This complexity has got people pulling their hair out,” Justice said later in a Q&A with tech journalists. “And there’s an immense amount of frustration that they’re dumping billions and billions of dollars into security and it’s not working.”

To top things off, he said, “there’s a massive shortage” of tech talent to handle all of these mounting challenges. “It’s not a pretty picture for us as IT professionals,” Justice concluded. IT vendors like Cisco are under enormous pressure from their customers to ease these pain points.

How do you tackle such huge IT problems? With more IT, he said. Different IT. Specifically, as Justice elaborated, with IT that is artificially intelligent and automated.

This is where Cisco Connect got all Game of Thrones on us. A video starring GOT actor Peter Dinklage popped up on the massive screen behind Justice. It was a promo spot for Cisco’s Intuitive Network, a new line of products that features Encrypted Traffic Analytics (ETA) as its focal piece.

According to Cisco, ETA can identify malware in encrypted traffic, without requiring any information to be decrypted. That means you can quickly spot and root out the bad stuff without compromising the privacy and security of the good stuff.

Although ETA is just one aspect of Cisco’s Intuitive Network, the product suite is designed to address those three huge pain points facing enterprise IT pros right now: complexity, cost and lack of skilled IT talent. It does that by baking ingredients like machine learning, SD-WAN and automation right into the mix.

As the promo video featured Dinklage strolling down a CGI-enhanced London road, it mirrored the new path that Cisco and other large enterprise IT providers are being forced to take.

In his conversation with journalists after the presentation, Justice conceded that the days of serving up closed-ended, piecemeal, hardware-centric, one-time solutions are over. No one wants to buy a ‘box’ — or a bunch of disparate boxes — that don’t work together, can’t be customized and will just have to be replaced by yet another box in a few short years.

The new approach is integrated, SaaS-based and more openly architected. There is a push to put the network back at the heart of the enterprise, and to do that in a very holistic way.

“It’s going to be about integrating these technologies together,” Justice said, adding that he meant multi-vendor solutions as well as Cisco’s own proprietary systems. “It’s easier to manage overall.”

Rob Barton, principal systems engineer for Cisco Canada, expanded upon that point in the media session. He said Cisco is opening up its architecture by adding more programmability and APIs to its offerings. One example is Cisco’s new Security Connector. It’s billed by Cisco as the first-ever enterprise security application for iOS devices, which have been notoriously shuttered to developers and outside integrations.

We know, of course, that Cisco and its fellow IT providers aren’t doing this purely out of a sense of duty to their customers. By moving from a focus on Big One-Time Hardware purchases to SaaS, API integration and managed services, they can also drive recurring revenue streams.

In her own presentation, Cisco Canada president Rola Dagher alluded to digital disruptors like Uber, Airbnb and Netflix. “They continue to disrupt to make sure they stay relevant. How do you survive today? That’s the big question.”

The answer, for Cisco and other enterprise vendors, is to pull up your socks and make these sorts of drastic changes. The alternative is to end up bruised and bloodied on the IT battlefield, like some scene out of Game of Thrones.

Image: iStock

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