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Cisco’s intent-based networks now available for the WAN

Mar 09, 20185 mins
Cisco SystemsNetworkingSD-WAN

Cisco continues to innovate in the area of intent-based networks and now brings the advanced network model to the biggest area of pain for most companies -- the WAN.

sd-wan optimization
Credit: istock

If you read my Valentine’s Day post, you know I love intent-based networks (IBN), as the technology is the biggest change in networking in decades.

Cisco wasn’t the first vendor to offer an IBN solution, but they’ve certainly been the most vocal about the need and has been the network industry’s biggest evangelist. 

The value proposition of IBN is to simplify networking dramatically with the long-term vision of having a fully autonomous network. With IBN, the operations of the network are driven by business intent to ensure policies are adhered to and application performance remains optimized.

This was quite a bold move for a company that thrived on complexity at one time, but times change and the needs of today are certainly different than the needs of yesterday.

IBN now spans the campus, data center, and WAN

Cisco initially launched IBN in the campus and then later brought it to the data center.  This week, at Cisco Live Melbourne, it announced IBN for the wide-area network (WAN).

For many companies, the WAN is the part of the network that is the biggest headache and most difficult to manage. Unlike the data center or campus that has local engineering support, branch offices typically have no local IT.  Also, the WAN isn’t a single network. Instead, it’s composed of disparate networks that have different characteristics. It’s not uncommon to have a WAN that uses MPLS, DSL, Ethernet, or even some kind of wireless service.

The WAN is super important to businesses because it connects branch office users to applications, and the majority of workers reside in branches today. The hodgepodge nature of the WAN often leads to inconsistent application experiences, which frustrates users and costs the business money. It’s fair to say that for many organizations, the WAN is the business, so applying the principles of IBN to the WAN is something that can provide an immediate return on investment.

New cloud services power Cisco’s IBN for WAN

Cisco’s IBN for WAN is made up of the following two components:

Cisco SD-WAN vAnalytics 

Cisco SD-WAN vAnalytics is built on technology the company got in the Viptela acquistion and is designed to provide visibility into WAN performance and capacity planning. Like its IBN solution for the data center and campus, SD-WAN vAnalytics allows network professionals to perform “what if” scenarios to try things and see what happens before the changes are committed. This is much more effective than the traditional model of hope things work and then reboot the router if things go awry. If the system notices a problem, it provides corrective actions and the steps taken to implement them. Over time, these actions will be executed automatically, but we’re still in the crawl phase of IBN and it’s unrealistic to expect customers to fully automate things.  

The term vAnalytics is actually a bit of a misnomer, as it’s a suite that includes vAnalytics that does the baselining, trending, datamining, comparisons, and cause and effect and combines it with vManage that provides the real-time and historical visibility, troubleshooting tools, capacity planning, and utilization.

Cisco vAnalytics is offered as a SaaS service, enabling Cisco to source the data from multiple customers, which gives it more data to apply machine learning. The data is collected anonymously, so there should be no concerns of privacy violations. The service is part of Cisco’s enterprise license agreement (ELA).

Cisco Meraki Insight

This service is obviously for Meraki customers and provides end-to-end visibility of how cloud apps are performing. People in branches expect a consistent user experience, and it’s impossible for network administrators to troubleshoot problems without visibility. Meraki Insight provides that insight.

The service also offers network analytics and troubleshooting information for the WAN, as well as the LAN and application servers. The information is integrated into the Meraki dashboard, so customers of Meraki can start using the service as soon as it’s available (Q1 of 2018).

cisco intent based networking for wan Cisco

Cisco’s vision for the WAN

The two services announced this week should be thought of as a starting point for where Cisco wants to take the WAN. Over the next few years, I expect Cisco to continue to evolve its IBN solution.

With respect to the WAN, Cisco has five fundamental points that are driving innovation in this area:

  • A unified WAN fabric that is operationally simple to manage that can scale up to thousands of sites. Customers will have the option of managing this fabric via the cloud or on premises.
  • A transport-independent network that supports all types of connectivity, including MPLS, broadband, internet access, or 4G/5G cellular.
  • Platform-agnostic technology, enabling customers to deploy physical or virtual infrastructure in the cloud, branch, data center, or co-location facility.
  • Agile network services that can be deployed in minutes instead of months. This includes security, unified communications, or other services related to the WAN or branch.
  • Analytics and assurance, resulting in real-time optimization for all types of applications. This will leverage visibility and forecasting services that provide actionable insights to proactively avoid problems.

Organizations are striving to be digital organizations, and this requires a highly agile, dynamic network to support whatever initiative the company chooses. Legacy network management is too slow and manually intensive to meet the needs of today. It’s time for companies to explore an IBN to enable the network to do things it never could before. Cisco’s solution brings the principals of intent-based to the area of the network that typically has the most headaches for companies.


Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research, and provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long-term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to end-user IT and network managers, vendors of IT hardware, software and services and the financial community looking to invest in the companies that he covers.

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