In Swift Intent-Based Networking Evolution, Cisco Makes DNA Center An Open Platform


Cisco Systems has taken another major step into an open, platform-based future with the latest iteration of its DNA Center intent-based networking control and management dashboard.

The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant said Tuesday that DNA Center will become an open platform, allowing for the management of any third-party device, including competing networking gear from Juniper Networks and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. It also gives channel partners an opportunity to dig into APIs and develop applications for customers.

Cisco took the wraps off DNA Center Platform Tuesday at its Cisco Live conference in Orlando, Fla. It will be generally available in late summer.

[Related: Cisco's Changing Of The Guard: 8 Executive Moves That Illustrate CEO Robbins' Software-Centric Push]

"DNA Center as a Platform really opens up that ability for our partners to build incremental intellectual property," Cisco Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins said in an interview with CRN. "Providing a set of APIs that customers and partners can then write their own applications that take advantage of the information we can extract from the network, or dynamically can initiate a provisioning activity inside the network, this is hugely different than anything we've ever done before."

Robbins said DNA Center Platform will occupy an advantageous position in the market as customers seek out flexible, automated, software-based networking solutions.

"The real differentiator for us is our years and years and years of understanding networks," Robbins said. "You can't go build these complex automation platforms and expose those northbound APIs if you don't understand what's happening in the network in an incredibly deep way, and we understand that better than anybody else."

Paul Giblin, senior solutions architect at New York-based Presidio, a large solution provider that works with Cisco, said making DNA Center an open platform creates an opportunity for his team to serve customers in more streamlined and specific ways.

"We got early access to code and built an app around it," Giblin said. "We built it in around six weeks. We put together an energy management app that does things like shut off infrastructure when people walk out of the building. People leave at 5 o'clock, but maybe they don't all leave, and you don't want to shut stuff off on them, so you bring in Wi-Fi location and you expose capabilities within DNA Center to allow us to manipulate ports, and power settings for places and you've got capabilities you didn't have before.

"When they put the APIs on top of it and open it up, it creates opportunity," Giblin said. "Now, instead of having to write a thing that logs into this and logs into that, and do a lot of manual work to make that all happen, Cisco's taking care of that ugly business and giving us this platform. They're saying, 'You want access to all these devices, well, we manufacture all those devices, here's an easy button for that. You go focus on the business logic of whatever you want to do.' It's taking the traditional business we do as an integrator and making it easier for our engineers to do. It's taking the rote, repetitive labor out of the mix for them so they can focus on higher-level, strategic tasks."

DNA Center Platform is perhaps Cisco's biggest move yet into an open, software-focused future, Giblin said. "They're in the process of turning the big ship and converting themselves into a software company, and I think they've taken baby steps along the way by opening up things like the ability to run Python natively on some of their platforms. That's cool, but this is a bigger step."

Cisco said DNA Center Platform solidifies its commitment to open, programmable infrastructure and systems by bringing those capabilities to its branch, WAN and campus networking portfolio.

The platform extends the intent-based networking strategy Cisco launched about a year ago. Intent-based networking automates network policy and management, allowing businesses to focus on specific outcomes, rather than the nuts and bolts of the network.

The foundation of the intent-based strategy is the Catalyst 9000 switch, which has been bought by some 5,800 customers since its launch, making it the fastest-ramping product in the company's history, Cisco executives say.

The introduction of DNA Center Platform goes hand-in-hand with Cisco's DevNet community, which has swelled to 500,000 developers. Along with the introduction of DNA Center Platform, Cisco is opening DevNet ecosystem exchange and DevNet code exchange. The exchanges will provide validated code to channel partners and application developers to use in the platform.

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