Feature Story

Let the machines run the machines

by Ruba Borno

Machine Learning

With network automation, IT can focus on business outcomes.

Executives are relying on technology to not only operate their businesses, but to fundamentally drive their company strategy. CEOs are now asking their IT teams, "Can you help me transform my business for the digital age?"

The answer is YES.

I often recall my first grant application as a graduate researcher at the University of Michigan. Its research justification hinged on the future world consisting of massively distributed sensor networks. And, just over a decade later, those networks are here.

It's shaping a new Era of IT – the Era of Intelligence – where the role of the network is more critical than ever before. Highly distributed sensor networks are connecting siloed cloud ecosystems, on premise data centers, billions of people and billions of things. Everyone and everything is generating data. Full fleet learning across the network is on the horizon. Embedded security is a fundamental necessity. And all with the ultimate intent of unleashing intelligence and value for organizations to compete in the digital age.

But, today's network infrastructure and the current way of deploying and managing it won't work in the Era of Intelligence.  A new network is required.

We are at a tipping point with the number of things being connected.

Today there are at least 8.4 billion things connected to the internet. In just 3 years, 1 million devices are going to come online every hour.  At Cisco alone, we are adding 1.5 million connections per month to our Jasper platform, and in just over 3 years from now that many devices will be coming online per hour. With this vast landscape of connections comes complexity, an increasing attack surface, and a scale that is unmanageable in a traditional sense.

Read: Ruba Borno on optimizing the multicloud

As an example, consider a large healthcare organization adding a number of new hospitals to its network. Within each campus, large numbers of people will be connecting to all types of things, all types of things will be connecting to each other, and everything will be connected to the network.  With a traditional IT roll-out, each site would need trained IT professionals onsite to configure, deploy and apply policy to the increasing numbers of networked devices, box by box through command lines, and they would have to run thousands of regression tests to ensure nothing was broken in the process. This could take weeks, if not months, and when changes are required… they do it all over again. This approach won't work with the billions of connections coming our way.

Humans can't do it – it has to be automated.

Cisco reinvented the network for a new Era with secure, automation at scale.

At Cisco, thousands of the industry's best engineers have been busy reinventing the network. Last month, we proudly unveiled their innovation – the secure, intelligent platform for next generation digital business – The Network. Intuitive.

A key innovation announced was DNA Center, the command and control center for the network. It was designed to manage next-generation software-defined network architectures. It's the one place to design, provision, and apply policy for the entire network so that organizations can scale to millions of devices with embedded security.

Automation is taken to an entirely new level.

Now, IT teams can automate policy to shave months off IT implementations. Policy is set once through an easy interface, and new devices are auto-detected and applied policy, saving enormous amounts of time and reducing human error. IT teams can also segment the network to secure the business. Users and devices are secured with identity-based policy so IT can see the behavior of users, devices and applications across the entirety of the network (because you don't want your HVAC system communicating with user applications or it might turn out like this cartoon).

We are now able to leverage the data that the network has been seeing for the past 20 years and use it to build a learning architecture.  We are using machine learning and artificial intelligence to power a self-learning network, furthering our ability to automate.

If we revisit the healthcare example, DNA Center offers IT one place to administer the systems of the new hospitals, without IT staff being physically present. They provision the devices with simple, automated workflows and segment the policy for differentiated access. Doctors and nurses have access to medical records, patients and visitors have a great online user experience, and medical devices are separated and protected. It's all done in hours not weeks or months. When updates are required – they occur automatically.

The new network is a game changer for IT organizations.

Right now, for every dollar spent on networking, three dollars is spent on network operations. When IT has secure automation at scale, that obviously translates into substantial cost savings and dramatic efficiency improvements.

Our customers are already experiencing game-changing benefits with applications delivered through DNA Center.

Watch how Symantec used DNA Center to reduce a six-month process into minutes.

IT offers exponential value when the machines run the machines.

The new Era of Intelligence is exciting because it's about more than efficiency and cost savings; it's about business outcomes. If we can manage our networks to allow the machines to run the machines, then IT can focus on how their networks can drive business value, enhance customer experiences, and find new paths to revenue. Be sure to read Imperative number three: Who Gives a Cloud? Optimizing the Multicloud Reality where I explain our strategy in enabling the multicloud world and our new technology partnership with Google Cloud.