Enterprise, Networking

Cisco’s New DNA: Digital Network Architecture Explained


Enterprises have been struggling to take good ideas found in data centers and extend them into the rest of the network, like the campus.

The two worlds have stayed separate for a long time, but people managed to get by without tight integration, since the workloads and network connections were often managed by different groups, and the network traffic tended to have different characteristics.

However, with changes afoot, such as a move toward using more SaaS apps and pressures to improve manageability of remote offices, people realized that some core changes in the enterprise network architecture were necessary.

Cisco DNA: Setting the Stage

Ever wonder how Cisco’s policy control (leveraged in the data center using ACI) can extend to the rest of the enterprise, such as the campus or branch networks? We saw a hint of those possibilities when APIC-EM was released last year.

Cisco has announced a new comprehensive architecture that ties together elements of APIC-EM, a new version of IOS XE, along with Enterprise Network Function Virtualization and move to cloud-enabled network services, with CMX Cloud as a first proof point.

This bolsters my belief that enterprise-wide networking has become more sophisticated, and elements usually associated with service providers (such as NFV) are finding their way into mainstream enterprises, too.  Cisco’s DNA manages to hit many of the themes that I’ve been investigating.

  1. Network Automation — ESG research has shown that automation can equally benefit enterprises in areas of (a) agility, (b) meeting SLAs, and (c) achieving consistency in configuration. DNA systems such as Intelligent WAN automation helps to relieve much of the tedious work.
  2. Policy — The ideas related to policy-based network control shouldn’t be hidden only within data center networking. Ideas like group-based policy, shared with ACI, help to elevate the management of network to be based on the “what”, as opposed to the “how”.
  3. Security — Security continues to be top of mind for most IT organizations, and integrating security into the core of the network makes sense, mostly because the network touches everything.
  4. Network adding value to the enterprise — I think this is the key element. We can view the network as an enabler for high-level services that enable people to work better and to provide better visibility. This is in contrast to it being viewed as a cost center, solely measured in terms of performance.

Cisco DNA Competition Looms

Cisco is not alone in revisiting the modernized enterprise networking architecture. Juniper, for example, has its Unite Architecture taking a broader view.

However, if Cisco can deliver by providing a variety of capabilities in an integrated manner, they will be able to change the way these new systems are evaluated. I don’t think it will be an overnight change, but this is a great start in this journey.

Dana Conde is an analyst covering enterprise networking technologies for ESG. Read more ESG blogs here