Tag Archives: Cisco

Kubernetes hybrid cloud emerges from Google-Cisco partnership

A forthcoming Kubernetes hybrid cloud option that joins products from Cisco and Google promises smoother portability and security, but at this point its distinguishing features remain theoretical.

Cisco plans to release the Cisco Container Platform (CCP) in the first quarter of 2018, with support for Kubernetes container orchestration on its HyperFlex hyper-converged infrastructure product. Sometime later this year, a second version of the container platform will link up with Google Kubernetes Engine to deliver a Kubernetes hybrid cloud offering based on the Cisco-Google partnership made public in October 2017.

“Cisco can bring a consistent hybrid cloud experience to our customers,” said Thomas Scherer, chief architect at Telindus Telecom, an IT service provider in Belgium and longtime Cisco partner that plans to offer hosted container services based on CCP. Many enterprises already use Cisco’s products, which should boost CCP’s appeal, he said.

CCP 2.0 will extend the Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure software-defined network fabric into Google’s public cloud, and enable stretched Kubernetes clusters between on-premises data centers and public clouds, Cisco executives said. Stretched clusters would enable smooth container portability between multiple infrastructures, one of the most attractive promises of Kubernetes hybrid clouds for enterprise IT shops reluctant to move everything to the cloud. CCP also will support Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services public clouds, and eventually CCP will incorporate DevOps monitoring tools from AppDynamics, another Cisco property.

“Today, if I have a customer that is using containers, I put them on a dedicated hosting infrastructure, because I don’t have enough confidence that I can maintain customer segregation [in a container environment],” Scherer said. “I hope that Cisco will deliver in that domain.”

He also expects that the companies’ strengths in enterprise data center and public cloud infrastructure components will give the Kubernetes hybrid cloud a unified multi-cloud dashboard with container management.

“Is it going to be easy? No, and the components included in the product may change,” he said. “But my expectation is that it will happen.”

Google public cloud servers in Georgia
Version 2 of the Cisco Container Platform will connect enterprise data centers with Google’s public cloud infrastructure shown here.

Kubernetes hybrid cloud decisions require IT unity

Cisco customers have plenty of other Kubernetes hybrid cloud choices to consider, some of which are already available. Red Hat and AWS joined forces last year to integrate Red Hat’s Kubernetes-based OpenShift Container Platform with AWS services. Microsoft has its Azure public cloud and Azure Stack for on-premises environments, and late last year added Azure Container Service Engine to Azure Stack with support for Kubernetes container management templates.

What Cisco is trying to do, along with other firms, is to expand its appeal to infrastructure and operations teams with monitoring, security and analytics features not included in Kubernetes.
Stephen Elliotanalyst, IDC

However, many enterprises continue to kick the tires on container orchestration software and most do not run containers in production, which means the Cisco-Google partnership has a window to establish itself.

“Kubernetes support is table stakes at this point,” said Stephen Elliot, analyst at IDC. “Part of what Cisco is trying to do, along with other firms, is to expand its appeal to infrastructure and operations teams with monitoring, security and analytics features not included in Kubernetes.”

As Kubernetes hybrid cloud options proliferate, enterprise IT organizations must unite traditionally separate buyers in security, application development, IT management and IT operations to evaluate and select a product. Otherwise, each constituency will be swayed by its established vendor’s product and chaos could ensue, Elliot said.

“There are a lot of moving parts, and organizations are grappling with whom in their organization to turn to for leadership,” he said. “Different buyers can’t make decisions in a vacuum anymore, and there are a lot of politics involved.”

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget’s Cloud and DevOps Media Group. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

Cisco Assurance services verify intent-based networking

Cisco has introduced a policy-centric layer of network analytics for the data center, campus and the wireless LAN, providing customers with additional intelligence to pinpoint problems and fix them. The latest technology represents a significant advancement in Cisco’s march toward intent-based networking.

Cisco’s Assurance analytics, launched on Tuesday, focuses on the nonpacket data the company’s Tetration network monitoring and troubleshooting software doesn’t cover. Unlike Tetration, Assurance keeps tabs on policies created in Cisco software to control the network’s infrastructure, such as switches, firewalls and load balancers.

Cisco Assurance is the latest step in the company’s intent-based networking (IBN) initiative, which is centered around creating policies that tell software what an operator wants the network to do. The application then makes the infrastructure changes.

The engine behind Cisco Assurance services

Cisco’s latest layer of analytics for the data center is called the Network Assurance Engine, which Cisco has tied to its software-defined networking (SDN) architecture, called Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI). The new technology is virtualized software that network operators deploy on any server.

Once installed, the software logs into the ACI controller, called the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), which shares network policies, switch configurations and the data-plane state with the Assurance Engine.

At that point, the software creates a map of the entire ACI fabric and then builds a mathematical model that spans underlays, overlays and virtualization layers. The model establishes the network state, which Assurance compares to what operators want the network to do based on policies they’ve created.

“If a network engineer used flawed logic in expressing intent, the Assurance Engine would find that flaw when the intent is translated to network state,” said Shamus McGillicuddy, an analyst for Enterprise Management Associates, based in Boulder, Colo.

Other vendors, such as Forward Networks and Veriflow, also build models of network state and then perform analytics to spot discrepancies with a network operator’s intent. Cisco’s differentiator is the integration with its APIC policy controller, which creates a closed-loop system for ensuring operator intent matches network state, McGillicuddy said.

Knowing where an engineer’s policies have “gone off the rails” is a big help in keeping networks running smoothly, said Andrew Froehlich, the president of consulting firm West Gate Networks, based in Loveland, Colo. “For network administrators, this is a huge win, because it will help them to pinpoint where problems are occurring when people start shouting the network is slow.”

Cisco has tied the analytics engine to a troubleshooting library of what the company has identified as the most common network failure scenarios. As a result, when an engineer makes a change to the network, the Assurance Engine can determine, based on its knowledge base, where the modification could create a problem.

Initially, the Assurance Engine will cover only the Nexus 9000 switches required for an ACI fabric. Later in the quarter, Cisco plans to extend the software’s capabilities to firewalls, load balancers and other network services from Cisco or partners.

Cisco Assurance services for the campus

For the campus, Cisco has added its new analytics engine to version 1.1 of the Digital Network Architecture (DNA) Center — Cisco’s software console for distributing policy-based configurations across wired and wireless campus networks. DNA Center, which costs $77,000, requires the use of Cisco Catalyst switches and Aironet access points. Companies using DNA Center have to buy a subscription license for each network device attached to the software.

The Assurance analytics in the latest release of DNA Center draws network telemetry data from the APIC-EM controller, the campus network version of the ACI controller used in the data center. The model created from the data lets operators monitor applications, switches, routers, access points and end-user devices manufactured by Cisco partners, such as Apple.

As the data center software, the Cisco Assurance services for the campus are focused on troubleshooting and remediation. Later in the quarter, Cisco will add similar features to the cloud-based management console of the Meraki wireless LAN. Problems the Meraki analytics will help solve will include dropped traffic, latency and access-point congestion.

Today, most operators manage networks by programming switches and scores of other devices manually, usually via a command-line interface. Proponents of IBN claim the new paradigm is more flexible and agile in accommodating the needs of modern business applications. In the future, Cisco, Juniper Networks and others want to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to have networks fix common problems without operator involvement.

Despite progress vendors have made in developing IBN systems, enterprises are just beginning to roll out the methodology in their operations. Gartner predicted the number of commercial deployments will be in the hundreds through mid-2018, increasing to more than 1,000 by the end of next year.

Cisco HyperFlex system upgrade targets hybrid cloud

Cisco has added to its hyper-converged infrastructure platform tools for running and managing hybrid applications split between public and private clouds. The latest technology in the Cisco HyperFlex system makes it a stronger competitor in the market, analysts said.

Cisco introduced this week the 3.0 software release for HyperFlex. The announcement came a day after Cisco said it would acquire Skyport Systems Inc., a maker of highly secure, cloud-managed, hyper-converged systems.

In general, HyperFlex combines software-defined storage and data services software with Cisco Unified Computing System. UCS integrates computing, networking and storage resources to provide efficiency and centralized management.

The latest release packs a lot more Cisco software into HyperFlex, which should improve interoperability and simplify support, said Dan Conde, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., based in Milford, Mass. “Cisco has taken many of the assets that used to be separate in their stable and made it available under a single [HyperFlex] umbrella.”

The new features should also make HyperFlex more competitive and useful as a hybrid cloud platform, analysts said. In the hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) market, Cisco has lagged behind rivals Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Nutanix.

Software added to the Cisco HyperFlex system

HyperFlex customers now have the option of Cisco AppDynamics integration for monitoring performance of applications running on HyperFlex and across clouds. Other cloud-related management software available for the HCI system include Cisco Workload Optimization Manager (CWOM) and CloudCenter.

CWOM helps IT staff determine the resource needs of workloads. CloudCenter provides application-centric orchestration.

Other new features include support for Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtual machine (VM). HyperFlex supports the more popular VMware ESXi, but Hyper-V is often used to run Microsoft applications.

Release 3 of the Cisco HyperFlex system also contains support for Kubernetes-managed containers, making HyperFlex friendlier to developers building cloud-native applications.

Along with cloud apps, companies can run more enterprise applications on HyperFlex. Cisco released validated designs and guides for running Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and Splunk software.

The most prominent use case for HCI systems is running business applications on a general computing platform, according to Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill. Roughly 30% of enterprises use HCI for general computing, followed by private cloud at 19%.

Increased scalability in the Cisco HyperFlex system

Cisco has increased the scalability of HyperFlex. Customers can raise VM density by joining HyperFlex systems into clusters, which can now contain up to 64 nodes. The previous maximum was eight.

Cisco has also added support for stretched clusters, which makes it possible to have nodes span multiple geographical locations.

Overall, analysts expect the new features to help Cisco add to the more than 2,500 companies using HyperFlex today.

“This announcement, combined with the market still being ripe for adoption, is a great combo going forward,” said Mike Leone, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. “It will be interesting to see how the customer base grows now that they’re on a more level playing field with the competition.”

Plans for Skyport acquisition

The Skyport acquisition brings a tightly knit hardware and software product to Cisco’s portfolio. The system is primarily used to run business-critical data center applications.

“I think Cisco’s goal is to get the automated, security-wrapped provisioning software [in Skyport] and just fold it into their cloud and infrastructure management tools broadly,” said Nemertes analyst John Burke.

That may be so, but for now, Cisco has provided no details, saying in a statement it plans to use Skyport’s “intellectual property, seasoned software and network expertise to accelerate priority areas across multiple Cisco portfolios.”

The Skyport team will join Cisco’s networking group, led by general manager Jonathan Davidson, and the data center and computing systems product group, headed by general manager Liz Centoni. Cisco did not disclose financial terms.

Cisco, Hyundai to add software-defined platform to vehicles

Cisco and Hyundai Motor Co. said they would work together to develop vehicles anchored by software-defined networking. The first vehicles are slated to roll out next year, the companies said. Cisco and Hyundai released their plans at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, following up on an original announcement in 2016.

In smart-car fashion, Cisco and Hyundai will develop the vehicles with a focus on communication and sensors. That’s where the “software-defined” status comes in. The premium Hyundai vehicles will integrate a Cisco-built software-defined platform with an Internet Protocol (IP) and 1 Gbps Ethernet in-vehicle network, according to a Cisco statement.

The IP and Ethernet network will enable high-speed connectivity to each vehicle device, the statement said. But more than that, Cisco and Hyundai hope to develop a more open vehicle system to enable the actual communication among smart vehicles, roadways or traffic lights, Ruba Borno, Cisco’s vice president of growth initiatives, wrote in a blog post.

“This is the only way to achieve full autonomy and enable vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-roadways communication,” Borno wrote. “By putting software inside the central gateway, the new solution enables high-speed connectivity downstream to every device in the car — and upstream to the cloud. This IP connectivity is required for applications to control devices based on real-time data and analytics.”

The software-defined platform will also allow for easier feature updates.

“[The new platform] is highly configurable and secure — and offers the flexibility to design and build new services,” Cisco’s statement said. “It will provide ‘over-the-air updates’ and accelerate the time it takes to bring new capabilities to market.”

The software-defined platform will also act as a foundation for security, touting “integrated, multilayered security, as well as full end-to-end networking,” according to Cisco. This end-to-end security includes encryption, authentication, intrusion detection, firewall and network traffic analysis, Borno wrote in her blog post.

The companies said they are looking into integrating the software-defined vehicles with Hyundai data centers in order to access real-time data.

Windstream to acquire MassComm

Windstream said it plans to acquire MassComm, a New York-based competitive local exchange carrier, or CLEC, according to a filing submitted to the Federal Communications Commission the last week of December.

The proposal stated that Windstream will purchase in cash all issued and outstanding MassComm capital stock. Once the deal closes, MassComm will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Windstream, the filing said.

MassComm provides voice, data and networking technologies, in addition to telecommunications and connectivity management and consultation. The CLEC is authorized to serve customers in California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. Those areas will be combined with Windstream’s reach across the U.S.  Windstream runs a fiber network comprising approximately 150,000 miles.

“By combining MassComm’s customer base with Windstream’s presence and fiber network, the combined company will have the opportunity to serve more of MassComm’s current customers on Windstream’s own last-mile facilities,” the proposal said.

The companies explained the acquisition holds no competitive risks, as MassComm doesn’t own any last-mile facilities, thereby eliminating potential overlap with Windstream’s facilities. Further, the proposal stated competition in the medium-sized business market will be enhanced. The companies don’t expect the transaction to affect current MassComm customer rates or terms of service, according to the filing.

The proposal did not disclose specific financial terms of the transaction. Windstream completed acquisitions of Broadview and EarthLink last year and also partnered with VeloCloud to offer SD-WAN managed services.

Aryaka and Zscaler partner to boost security for cloud-bound traffic

Aryaka is working with Zscaler to offer an SD-WAN package that combines Aryaka’s private network connectivity with Zscaler’s cloud-delivered security.

Once the service is available later this year, internet and cloud-bound traffic will be directly forwarded to Zscaler’s cloud via Aryaka’s edge device, Aryaka Network Access Point, according to an Aryaka statement. All traffic will then undergo a variety of security processes, including antivirus, threat prevention, data protection and access control.

Aryaka said the security enhancement will allow its customers to use its private network to securely access cloud-based and on-premises applications.

Zscaler already provides security services to other SD-WAN vendors, including VeloCloud, Riverbed and Talari.

Businesses slow to embrace products like Samsung Flip board

Samsung has joined Cisco, Google and Microsoft in a digital whiteboard market that has attracted the interest, but not yet the wallets, of companies.

The Korean tech giant launched its Flip interactive display this week at the CES technology conference in Las Vegas. Scheduled for release this month, the Samsung Flip board will sell for $2,699, which is considerably less than competing products from the major vendors but higher than technology offered by smaller manufacturers.

The Flip has a 55-inch, 4K display that lets users annotate content using their fingers or stylus. The device has USB ports and a wireless connection for PCs and mobile devices. The latter lets remote workers view the Flip display.

Today, education, professional sports and media and entertainment account for a significant portion of whiteboard sales. Manufacturers are banking on businesses and government to grow the market.

To date, however, enterprises haven’t embraced the technology. A 2017 survey by Nemertes Research found only 23% of companies using interactive whiteboards and 47% evaluating them. Deployments have been limited mostly to workgroups focused on marketing, content development, engineering, application development and product management. Those groups find electronic whiteboards useful in brainstorming sessions.

“We don’t yet see them as a must-have in every conference room,” Nemertes analyst Irwin Lazar said. “Buyers are still struggling with the business case for whiteboards.”

Samsung Flip
The Samsung Flip can configure to horizontal or vertical orientations and features multiuser annotation.

Samsung Flip board pricing

Samsung’s product costs considerably less than similar size whiteboards from Cisco, Google and Microsoft. But those devices, which range from $5000 to $9000, offer more capabilities, including video conferencing and integration with the vendor’s collaboration software.

Independent analyst Dave Michels believes products that combine video and an interactive whiteboard will be more attractive to enterprises over time than whiteboard-only products. “Every room needs an HDMI display anyway,” Michels said. “Board-only solutions were probably obsolete before they found their way.”

But Lazar sees a “pretty good market” for whiteboards with fewer capabilities than those from the major vendors. Enterprises interested in those products have turned to vendors like Bluescape, DisplayNote, InFocus and Newline Interactive.

In general, those vendors offer whiteboard products that are less expensive than the Samsung Flip board, so the company will likely find it difficult to grab market share. “Given the higher price, and Samsung’s relative newness in the enterprise [whiteboard] market, I think they’ll have a difficult time competing with the other vendors,” Lazar said.

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Cisco ETA security integrated into Catalyst, ASR, ISR

Cisco boosted its IOS network operating system, integrating technology designed to spot malware activity in encrypted traffic. The company has incorporated the capability in the version of IOS that runs on Catalyst 9000 switches and ASR and ISR routers.

The integration makes it possible for companies using the hardware to subscribe to Cisco’s Encrypted Traffic Analytics (ETA), which the vendor made available for testing in June 2017. Cisco ETA is scheduled to be generally available Jan. 10.

The hardware support for Cisco ETA puts “meat on the bones of the initial announcement,” said Brad Casemore, an analyst at IDC. Cisco chose the right products for ETA because they are designed for enhanced security capabilities.

How Cisco ETA works

The Cisco ETA technology incorporated in IOS XE makes it possible for the hardware to generate ETA metadata and export it with additional telemetry to the vendor’s Stealthwatch Enterprise Edition Flow Collector, Brian Ford, technical marketing engineer in the Cisco security business group, said this week in a blog post. Stealthwatch collects flow records about network events, so they can be analyzed for malware activity.

Stealthwatch sends the ETA metadata and telemetry to Cisco’s cloud-based Cognitive Threat Analytics service, which examines the data, formulates risk scores for events and sends them to the customer’s Stealthwatch Management Console.

ETA gathers metadata from traffic without decrypting the packet flow. The nondecryption technique, which involves Cisco-developed machine learning, is meant to preserve a company’s data privacy, Ford said.

ETA looks for signs of malware in three features of encrypted data, according to Cisco. They include the first data packet from a new network connection, the sequence of packet lengths and times, and the byte distribution across the payloads of the packets.

Attackers expected to adapt

Some security experts have told TechTarget searching for malware activity in encrypted traffic can lead to a cat-and-mouse game with cybercriminals. As attackers become familiar with detection methods, “they will likely try to modify their encrypted traffic to blend in and remove the features that machine learning models rely on for detection,” said Nick Bilogorskiy, senior director of threat operations at Cyphort Inc.

Security is a significant piece of Cisco’s strategy to generate half its revenue from software and services by the fiscal year 2020. Cisco’s fiscal year runs from August to the following July.

In the first quarter of the current fiscal year, which ended Oct. 28, Cisco reported security revenue rose 8% year over year. The company expects security and software-based networking initiatives to help drive a projected revenue increase of 1% to 3% in the current quarter. The growth would end an eight-quarter streak of revenue declines.

Recapping 2017’s biggest trends in networking technology

Editor’s note: Cisco accelerated its shift to software, vendors launched new tools for managing data centers, and analytics, fueled by machine learning, stole the spotlight. Here, a recap of some of the most significant 2017 trends in networking technology.

Data center infrastructure trends in networking

In February, Cisco joined Microsoft to offer Azure Stack services in its UCS server. Throughout the early months of the year, Cisco revenues continued to fall, dropping for a fifth consecutive quarter because of declining sales of routers and switches.

Cisco attracted a lot of attention for its Digital Network Architecture (DNA) software initiative, which included a new line of Catalyst campus switches engineered to pave the way for a more intuitive way to program the network. DNA eliminates the need to program devices manually through the command-line interface; instead engineers use a policy-based approach to determine network behavior. Later that summer, Cisco said it would acquire SD-WAN vendor Viptela for $610 million in a bid to consolidate its WAN offerings.

In the fall, Cisco launched Intersight, a software-as-a-service initiative slated to become a management option for the vendor’s Unified Computing System and HyperFlex, a hyper-converged infrastructure platform. It also bolstered its Application Centric Infrastructure SDN software by enabling it to run across multiple data centers.

Other data center news included Juniper’s work on a switch fabric intended for multiple data centers, with a single set of management tools and higher spending on public cloud services. Juniper also made a series of announcements in December that included the release of bot software aimed at automating certain network functions.

Additionally, Dell EMC made its NOS standard on new open networking switches and Arista expanded its spine-leaf architecture for hyperscale data centers. Dell followed up its NOS announcement by releasing a line of high-speed switches for data centers and carriers in the fall.

Vendor consolidation gained traction, with Extreme Networks purchasing the data center business of Brocade, as well as the networking assets of Avaya.

Wireless LAN technology trends

The past 12 months were relatively quiet in WLAN trends in networking, as enterprises worked to deploy systems based on the 802.11ac Wave 2 specification.

One important technological development took place, however, as vendors began to release switches and other components capable of supporting the 2.5 and 5 GbE standard, which was ratified by the IEEE in late 2016. Toward that end, Dell EMC, among others, released multigigabit campus switches for both wired and WLAN deployments.

In February, Arris International said it would purchase WLAN vendor Ruckus Wireless Inc. for $800 million. Arris said Ruckus would continue to operate as an independent unit as it targets its technology to service providers and the hospitality market.

That acquisition was followed by a similar move by Riverbed Technology, which bought wireless LAN vendor Xirrus to complement its SD-WAN portfolio.

In June, Aruba released a core switch, aimed at large campus networks and internet of things applications. The 8400X switch also supports Aruba’s WLAN portfolio of products and software.

Extreme Networks announced plans in July to embed its recently acquired Avaya fabric technology in switches and management software to centralize control of large campus wired and wireless networks. And Aerohive, one of the last remaining independent Wi-Fi vendors, said it would add SD-WAN features to its cloud-based wireless controller in a bid to offer a more comprehensive service package to its customers. It also released a low-cost version of its Connect management platform for smaller deployments.

Network performance management and monitoring

In February, Cisco added policy-enforcement capabilities to its Tetration Analytics engine. The upgrade included a cheaper version for midsize companies. Following on the Tetration update, the vendor also launched cloud management for hyper-converged infrastructure in early March, providing enterprises with more choices in how they oversee the vendor’s  HyperFlex product.

VeloCloud beefed up its SD-WAN software with policy options to make it more responsive to network performance problems. The new capabilities let enterprises dedicate segments of the network to specific traffic. In the event of glitches, the software reroutes traffic to alternative routes.

Intent-based networking (IBN) — policy-based software that tells the network what you want instead of telling it what to do — was one of the biggest trends in networking technology. Cisco said IBN would reshape much of its network management efforts, while startup Apstra Inc. upgraded its software that lets companies configure and troubleshoot network devices from multiple vendors.

The addition of analytics — fueled by machine learning — within network management and monitoring applications also gained steam. ExtraHop Networks added machine learning as a service to its Discover packet capture appliances.

In November, Nyansa upgraded its Voyance remediation engine to flag potential sources of network trouble, improve analytics and recommend fixes.

Cisco revenue expected to grow, as new products gain acceptance

Following a two-year revenue decline, Cisco has forecast an increase in sales in the current quarter, as enterprise customers warm up to new products stemming from the company’s security and intent-based networking initiatives.

On Wednesday, Cisco revenue was projected to increase by 1% to 3% in the current quarter. The company based the forecast on the progress it has made in transforming itself from a maker of traditional network switches and routers to a software-centric, subscription-based business.

“Cisco is prudent when it comes to guidance and outlooks; the executive team must be profoundly confident in the company’s ability to clear the bar,” said Brad Casemore,  an analyst at IDC.

In the fiscal first quarter ended Oct. 28, revenue from software and subscriptions rose 37% year over year to $5.2 billion. Nevertheless, total revenue from products and services fell 2% to $12.1 billion, marking Cisco’s eighth consecutive quarterly decline. A decrease in router sales was a significant contributor to the drop.

Cisco revenue helped by 1,100 new Catalyst 9000 customers

Despite the decline, Cisco continued to show progress in areas expected to drive future growth. Applications and security were up 6% and 8%, respectively, and the company had more than 1,100 customers for its latest line of campus switches, called the Catalyst 9000s.

Cisco is prudent when it comes to guidance and outlooks; the executive team must be profoundly confident in the company’s ability to clear the bar.
Brad Casemoreanalyst at IDC

“We’re pleased with the early feedback [on the Catalyst switches],” Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said during a conference call with analysts. “We would hope the platform continues to accelerate.”

Sales of the switches — introduced in June — are significant because the software included with the hardware is sold through a subscription model. Cisco expects the central management console for the switches, called the Digital Network Architecture (DNA) Center, to become an important contributor to recurring revenue, as more networking products are tied to the software.

DNA Center is also a component of Cisco’s recently announced intent-based networking initiative. The goal of IBN is to integrate automation and machine learning into network management so operators can make changes to devices through policy-driven software, rather than reconfiguring each piece of hardware separately.

Customers upbeat on Cisco-Viptela SD-WAN

Cisco reported encouraging talks with customers interested in the SD-WAN technology the company acquired in early August after completing the $610 million purchase of Viptela. “I would expect that we’ll start to see customers move somewhat this quarter. And then, in the second half of the [fiscal] year, I think our customers will begin to deploy some of these solutions,” Robbins said.

The SD-WAN market has evolved into a race between Cisco and VMware for the top slot, according to London-based IHS Markit. This month, VMware said it would acquire VeloCloud, which IHS identified as a revenue leader along with Viptela.

Other indicators of potential Cisco revenue growth include the company’s work in the hyperscale data centers of Google and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., China’s largest online retailer and public cloud provider.

Cisco is helping Alibaba build a new data center that would use Cisco infrastructure technology. The partnership with Google includes building technology for interoperability between the Cisco HyperFlex hyper-converged system and the Google public cloud.

Cisco’s work with Google will improve its standing in the market for technology that sits at the edge of an enterprise data center and connects the organization to its public cloud provider, Robbins said.

“They [cloud providers] definitely have come to the conclusion that the edge is going to be mission-critical for our customers going forward,” he said. “As they think about that, we’re the very natural partner for them.”

Cisco’s net income for the quarter was down 2% to $3 billion, based on non-GAAP results. Earnings per share were 61 cents, which was flat from a year ago and slightly higher than the 60 cents forecast by analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

Cisco Spark app to get voice-powered virtual assistant

Early next year, Cisco plans to let a small group of enterprise customers test-drive a voice-powered assistant in Spark.

The virtual helper, announced this week at the Cisco Partner Summit in Dallas, needs practice before it can perform chores reliably in the company’s cloud-based team collaboration software. So, Cisco is asking for volunteers to let it gather enough employee user data to help ready the service for general availability within the Cisco Spark app.

“This technology will evolve as users use it,” said Jonathan Rosenberg, CTO for Cisco’s collaboration business. “It has to be trained constantly and improved based on real usage patterns.”

Initially, the Cisco Spark assistant will use people’s vocal cues to enter a person into a Spark or WebEx online meeting or call a person within the same organization. People can also command the digital aide to record or end sessions.

While the capabilities are modest, Cisco plans to use data collected from people’s interactions with the service to make it smarter. In time, the company expects to automate other routine chores in the Cisco Spark app, such as planning and scheduling, taking down to-do items and crafting and sending meeting summaries. Cisco did not disclose a timetable for rolling out the more advanced capabilities.

The Spark Assistant is built on technology developed by MindMeld, an artificial intelligence vendor Cisco acquired this year. The company bought the startup because of its work in voice-activated personal assistants.

For now, Cisco will offer voice assistance to customers of its Spark Room Kit and Room Kit Plus video conferencing devices. The rectangular hardware that plugs into a third-party display includes speakers, microphone and cameras powerful enough for up to 15 people gathered in a conference room to take part in a Cisco Spark app meeting.

Cisco introduces a virtual personal assistant to Spark, the company’s cloud-based collaboration software
A Cisco Room Kit video conferencing system displays the start of an online meeting before attendees ask the Spark Assistant to join the discussion.

Microsoft Cortana in the lead

Today, Microsoft’s Cortana is the most widely deployed virtual assistant for business, according to Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill. Corporate employees using Office 365 can order Cortana to update work calendars, set reminders, create lists and read emails. The vendor has integrated the application into Windows 10.

Microsoft’s lead in business does not mean rivals, such as Cisco, do not have time to catch up. Organizations are aware of voice-controlled software but have yet to deploy it in large numbers. Nevertheless, companies consider virtual assistants a necessary technology within products and business processes reworked for the current digital age, Nemertes said.

The success of UC and collaboration vendors embedding voice-powered features in products will depend, in part, on addressing two of businesses’ most significant concerns — security and privacy. Suppliers will have to address potential risks through access controls and encryption of conversations.

Adoption of secured voice-controlled applications is sure to increase in business as consumers use the technology in the home. Spending on virtual personal assistant-enabled wireless speakers, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, will reach $3.5 billion by 2021 from $700 million in 2016, according to Gartner.