At Cisco Live 2017, the world’s leading networking vendor shone a spotlight on their new line of campus switches and their emerging software platform coined SD-Access. Some of the buzz was familiar like a new programmable ASIC with more power to process packets. We heard the expected refrain of speeds and feeds, port density, redundancy, and PoE. But we heard new things as well.
After years of industry buzz surrounding Software Defined Networking, Cisco announced their first serious foray into the software-defined space. Software-defined Access combines a suite of Cisco software products to improve usability, build automation, and aid in troubleshooting. Combining ISE and two new software tools, DNA Center and Network Data Platform, Cisco promises a fully automated, secure campus fabric. On it’s face, it’s difficult to not get excited about SD-Access. Many of us have been begging for more robust, software-driven solutions from Cisco. In many ways, SD-Access is the first coherent unified strategy in that direction.
Those of us who’ve been around networking for any length of time have history. We remember the Cisco Live where OnePK was all the rage. Sessions were packed to the gills with eager networkers learning a new API that was going to be integrated into every Cisco platform. OnePK didn’t survive a year. We remember hyped, but incomplete, products that never delivered on their promises. Beyond the failed promises, we’ve given countless sleep-hours to unexpected production outages caused by software bugs. Many of us can’t remember the last TAC case we opened whose root cause wasn’t a software bug.
At the same time, we freely acknowledge that we’ve built our careers around Cisco solutions and products. We want to believe that Cisco is entering a new era, that the leadership of Chuck Robbins is bringing about transformation inside of an organization that’s grown bloated with success.
With all that in mind, what can Cisco do to restore our confidence in the next era of software-defined solutions?
- Ship working products. More than anything, we must be able to trust that the products we buy will work as promised.
- Stay focused on delivering real solutions to real problems. Stop creating solutions that look for a problem. We have plenty of problems to solve.
- Integrate. Cisco’s integration of newly acquired Viptela will speak volumes.
- Unify the organization. Customers have grown weary of inter-BU competition and inconsistent product messaging. We expect all of Cisco to be on one team.
Even with my cautious optimism following Cisco Live, it will take a few years of successful product deployments to renew my confidence. As a follower of SD-WAN in general, and a fan of Viptela in particular, I cannot overstate the importance of the successful integration of Viptela’s full SD-WAN platform.
By next Cisco Live we should know if SD-Access is just another marketing campaign or if it’s becoming a new way of life for Cisco. We will know if SD-Access works. We will see how Cisco rolls Viptela into the fold and if they make the difficult decisions required to do so.
Until then, many of us will continue to watch and wait.