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Cisco’s Nightingale: Cloud-neutral orchestration and automation are primary goals for 2021

News Analysis
Nov 30, 20205 mins
Cloud ComputingNetworking

Cisco’s networking and cloud chief Todd Nightingale talks core cloud, WAN directions

distributed / decentralized cloud network connections
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While Todd Nightingale has been Cisco’s Enterprise Networking & Cloud business chief since March, some of the directions he wants to take the company’s biggest business unit—namely superior cloud-neutral orchestration and automation—are already evident.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the enterprise response to it are big drivers for near-future enterprise networking technology. But the ideas of cloud  connectivity and pushing simplicity and agility in the network, while they are already important, implementation has accelerated for most customers, Nightingale said in a recent interview.

“IT shops around the world have been refocused, and the real need for agility across different technologies is what’s driving our future developments,” Nightingale said. “The idea going forward is to focus on delivering powerful networking and software options on a smaller number of integrated platforms to simplify and bring an enormous amount of agility for enterprise customers.”

A couple of models of what Nightingale has in mind have already been rolled out. 

For one, in October Cisco upgraded and integrated some of its core software packages to help customers manage, control and automate functions in hybrid and multicloud data-center environments. One of the new tools, Cisco’s Nexus Dashboard, melds a number of Cisco’s management tools into a single interface to manage application lifecycles from set-up to maintenance and optimization. In this case, by supporting Cisco’s Multi-Site Orchestrator, which provisions,  monitors, and manages resources in Cisco ACI networks, the dashboard can set network and application-control policies across on-premises or cloud-based business environments, Cisco says.

The Nexus Dashboard also integrates with third-party services such as ServiceNow for incident management, AlgoSec for security policy, Splunk for business intelligence and F5/Citrix for load balancing. Additional third-party integrations are expected, Cisco stated. The system also supports open-source software including Red Hat Ansible for building and deploying enterprise automation and Hashicorp’s Terraform infrastructure management software.

Another example is the Cisco SecureX platform, announced this summer, which is an open, cloud-native system that integrates Cisco security wares and third-party tools to let IT security teams automate security management across enterprise cloud, network, applications and end points from a single interface. Cisco has engineered tighter integration between SecureX and its Secure Cloud Analytics program so that SecOps teams can monitor for behavior that may be indicative of threats or misconfigurations in the cloud.

Cisco also says it will extend SecureX to include support for Extended Detection and Response (XDR), which offers a unified approach to security-incident detection and response that can let customers correlate threat intelligence and signals across multiple security offerings.

Nightingale pointed to another product, Cisco’s Intersight, the company’s cloud-based systems-management offering, as an example of a platform that will see continued integration to help customers orchestrate multicloud workloads going forward.   

Cisco recently bolstered Intersight with the ability to manage Kubernetes containers. The idea is with Intersight Kubernetes Service, infrastructure teams can automate the lifecycle management of Kubernetes and containerized applications across any environment

“Cloud-neutral automation and orchestration are our ultimate goals,” Nightingale said.  “There is a serious transition going on now around where workloads are deployed and orchestrated between private and public clouds. Now workloads are becoming more containerized and customers are deploying a variety of services and providers to handle them. We can provide the cloud-neutral orchestration and networking to make that all work smoothly,” Nightingale said.

Part of that goal is enabled through Cisco’s AppDynamics and recently purchased ThousandEyes technology. AppDynamics is Cisco’s application-performance management system that lets users administer app performance and availability across cloud and data-center environments. ThousandEyes brings a cloud-based software package that analyzes performance of local and wide-area networks and the internet. 

“The ThousandEyes and AppDynamics combination gives customers end-to-end visibility and management capabilities regardless of where workloads are located which will become more important as applications and workloads are distributed,” Nightingale said.

Hand-in-hand with the networking and application changes cloud is bringing, is the transformation of traditional wide area networking, Nightingale said.

“The WAN was built years ago to secure site-to-site capabilities, but that is no longer the core use case today,” Nightingale said. “SD-WAN and SASE technologies are driving current WAN directions, and there are a whole slew of partners out there adding security features to our substantial portfolio to give customers a full secure experience.”

Core to Cisco’s WAN future is its Cloud OnRamp product that connects remote users at branch offices or other remote locations to cloud applications. OnRamp also supports connectivity to a number of cloud resources in AWS and Microsoft Azure.  SD-WAN Cloud OnRamp is part of Cisco’s overarching SD-WAN software package, and the company recently upgraded OnRamp to help customers tie distributed cloud applications back to a branch office or private data center.

“Helping deliver and manage applications across the WAN in new secure integrated ways is the next gear for us,” Nightingale said. “Whether users are working from home, or are mobile it doesn’t matter we want to give them one enterprise cloud on ramp experience that is easy to consume.”