AI, IOT and multi-domain: Cisco shows next intent-based steps at Cisco Live

Scott Harrell, senior vice president and general manager of enterprise networking at Cisco

SAN DIEGO — Cisco kicked off the 30th edition of its Cisco Live (née NetWorkers) event here by showing off where it plans to go next with its two-year-old campaign around what it calls intent-based networking. The networking giant shared how it will add more AI capabilities, increase the number of IOT products its supports, and will look to drive more compatibility across the various networking domain silos in a suite of announcements here.

Launched just before Cisco Live 2017, intent-based networking is the evolution of software-defined networking in Cisco’s parlance, the idea of defining networks less with command-line interfaces (though CEO Chuck Robbins continues to profess his love of the once predominant network configuration method) and more in terms of the business outcomes the network can be used to drive.

Scott Harrell, senior vice president and general manager of enterprise networking at Cisco, called Monday’s announcements “the next evolution of the journey towards that goal.

Harrell said the company would aim to reduce complexity through the increased use of artificial intelligence throughout its DNA  Center management software, introducing new capabilities to offer “enhanced visibility” into a customer’s network. The idea is to use machine learning to establish a baseline for what is “normal” on a given network, and then prioritize alerting IT staff when something outside that normal state occurs. By doing this, Harrell said, early customers were able to reduce the number of alerts IT staff had to deal with by about 75 percent.

“Now I can pay attention to those few that are much more important to my environment,” he said.

The technology will also be used to offer more analytics and more insights, to let IT staff be more proactive in dealing with the network, allowing the network itself common threads that may prove to be a precursor to a problem on the network. Harrell said the same capabilities could be used to compare performance across sites within an organization, and even to compare a company with its peers, to see what is being done right, or wrong, with the network to drive performance.

Harrell also detailed what the company calls “machine reasoning,” an AI-based system the company says will help network professionals troubleshoot more effectively by shaping the AI’s response to the same ways IT staff tend to investigate issues.

“We take 35 years of experience Cisco has, and encapsulate it in such a way that the machine itself can help customers troubleshoot more effectively, and in a more sophisticated way,” Harrell said.

The push on AI continues the move towards using the network for more in-depth analytics started under former CEO John Chambers nearly five years ago. 

“We’ve always said the network sees everything. Now we think it’s time we give you that visibility,” said Robbins in a show-opening keynote.

Cisco also outlined how it’s breaking down some of the silos across enterprise networks with a slew of new “multi-domain” capabilities. While the company builds “intent-based” into all of its core networking product, the intent of one area of the network may differ from that of another part. By linking them together under the same control systems and sharing those intents across the various silos (mostly campus, branch, data centre, WAN and cloud) the company hopes networking professionals will be able to deliver more complete solutions that meet end user needs. 

Harrell said an example might be a data centre-based application requesting and automatically getting, appropriate network prioritization from the WAN to drive better user experience. He also said the company would move towards better cross-domain threat detection.

“We’re building intent-based networking that’s smarter, simpler, more secure, and gets a much better experience for users,” Harrell said.

Sachin Gupta, senior vice president of product management at Cisco, called multi-domain a great near-term partner opportunity because it’s a capability that’s in demand, and one that’s easy for solution providers to add to their tool belt. Assuming partners already have the background skills in each of the domains, adding the skillset to enable the connections between domain is a relatively short bit of training, he said.

“We’re in the early innings, but this is a market that’s going to transition And the more you link together, the more value you’re going to drive for your customers,” Gupta said.

At the same time, the company is looking to increase the profile of another domain on the enterprise network — the Internet of Things space that so often represents a crossover point between informational technology and operational technology.

Liz Centoni, senior vice president and general manager for Cisco IoT

Liz Centoni, senior vice president and general manager for Cisco IoT, said the company has found that only 40 percent of organizations that do an IoT proof of concept move into production, with the most significant challenges being complexity, security, and the lack of ability to scale to the size of the enterprise.

Centoni said those problems mean that when it comes to networking, companies looking to drive IoT advantages can’t rely on manual management and configuration, but have to make it an architectural play, as Cisco likes to make things. She said the company would drive the same intent-based approach into IoT devices on the network as it has to more traditional enterprise network citizens, with security at the core of its offerings. Ultimately, there will be a tradeoff between the business, OT, and IT to make it all happen.

“The business will define the intent, and the IT personnel will deploy the policy across the enterprise,” Centoni said. 

The company is still building out its IOT-centric networking gear, with new heavy duty access points and switches introduced at Cisco Live and joining its Industrial Router 1101 launched six months ago. All use the same management tools as the rest of the enterprise networking stack from the vendor, and “all aggregate onto the same Catalyst 9000 network,” Centoni said.

Robert Dutt

Robert Dutt is the founder and head blogger at He has been covering the Canadian solution provider channel community for a variety of publications and Web sites since 1997.