Networking in the enterprise has always stood apart. It might take two minutes or less to spin up a virtual machine, but it can take two weeks to set up the network connections. To help bridge some of the gaps between networking and the rest of the DevOps team, Cisco Systems this week unveiled a series of intelligent switches that promise to do just that.
Via a Cisco intent-driven networking initiative, it soon will be possible to describe a business outcome that will be automatically enabled at the networking level, says Kiran Ghodgaonkar, senior marketing manager for Cisco. To achieve that goal, Cisco is moving to unify networking on an end-to-end basis, which Ghodgaonkar says primarily will require building a common controller that can be implemented at both the edge of the network and in the data center.
The first concrete step in achieving that goal is a set of Catalyst 9000 switches running an IOS XE operating system, which Cisco has imbued with machine learning algorithms. Over time, those algorithms will be deployed across both legacy networking infrastructures when appropriate, as well as any new networking and security equipment Cisco brings to market in the future. Once in place, IOS XE will make it easier to implement policies in software that spans everything from prioritizing traffic to implementing security polices.
This latest Cisco initiative follows the rollout a Tetration analytics platform based on an instance of Apache Spark and Cisco’s acquisition of AppDynamics, provider of an application performance management service delivered via the cloud. Ghodgaonkar says Cisco is aiming to combine analytics and machine learning algorithms to simplify network management in a way that furthers DevOps integration. Right now, however, the biggest impedance to achieving that goal, says Ghodgaonkar, is the fact that 80 percent to 90 percent of networking tasks still require manual intervention. Because of that issue alone, many organizations have experienced limited success in terms of integrating server, storage and networking management, despite the rise of software-defined networking (SDN) in the data center. In fact, to get past that issue, many organizations make investments in pre-integrated systems such as the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) platform. But the number of organizations willing to make that kind in forklift investment in IT infrastructure is not all that high when compared to the size of the overall IT market.
The biggest DevOps issue IT organizations now face, says Ghodgaonkar, is that as various elements of the IT organization invest in automation, silos of automation are created. Cisco says it has developed open application programming interfaces (API) will provide interoperability between its technologies and the rest of the IT environment to help break down those silos.
It’s still a little unclear these days just how much networking and IT operations can get automated. The good news is that, given the state of network management inside most organizations, things can only improve. The real issue (as any existing DevOps team already knows) may not be so much the technology as it is the culture differences spanning the compute, storage and networking teams.