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COMMENTARY

Cisco gears up for transition to digital-ready networks

It is offering an integrated approach to help companies in Asia to be more efficient, secure and innovative.

THE evolution of mobile devices and data has gone beyond all expectations in the last few years and there's no slowing down. Today, there are over 17 billion connected devices. In 2021, there will be 27 billion - three times the global population!

While we can all agree this is a positive change for users and business, hyper-connectivity has also unlocked a few unwanted challenges for enterprises, mainly the difficulty to manage all of those devices, with speed and security.

This wouldn't be a challenge if the network - the one single element that connects the ever-increasing number of users and devices - had evolved just as rapidly and with the same sophistication. Believe it or not, 95 per cent of network operations are still done manually, box by box.

Also, think about all of the data networks carry that remain untapped. Can we really call it the "data economy" when one of the world's biggest sources of data is still largely untapped?

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INTUITIVE NETWORK

A new era of networking is in order and Cisco takes it upon itself to lead the transition to digital-ready networks. After all, 80 per cent of the world's data runs on Cisco's networks and so, no one is better positioned to unlock the power of this incredible asset to help businesses be more efficient, secure and innovative.

The key to all this is visibility.

While the network has always been capable of seeing the who, what, when, where and how of every single byte of data that flows across it, companies were never able to access it, let alone leverage it as context to automate. And that's what Cisco's new intuitive network is all about - the ability to see everything and act on it, because what can be seen can be learned, predicted and, therefore, automated. In essence, a machine learning at scale, so smart that it can find the proverbial needle in the haystack, whether it is a network problem that impacts a user or a potential threat.

According to Gartner's 2017 networking predictions, by 2020, 10 per cent of enterprises will use intent-driven network design and operation tools - up from zero per cent today. Cisco is leading the take-off in this direction with the Digital Network Architecture (DNA) and the announcement of the industry's first Software Defined Access (SDA), along with other hardware and software innovation.

A lot has been said about this innovation so I want to focus on why it is important to companies in Asia. There are three things I'd like to highlight.

ASIA-PACIFIC LEADS

The challenge of managing so many users and devices is particularly real in this part of the world. By 2020, there will be 5.5 billion global users, three billion of whom would be in the Asia-Pacific region, with Indonesia, China and India leading the way. This represents 47 per cent of the global mobile traffic, pretty much half of all of the other regions combined!

In this context, SDA is a very powerful tool. SDA is the policy-based automation for users, devices and things that will help companies automate activities such as configuration, provisioning and troubleshooting. All those tasks will take minutes rather than months, helping companies save time and money that can be redirected to innovation and other activities that deliver more value back to the business.

With so many users and devices, it's only normal that problems happen. With today's tools, fixing them consumes 75 per cent of IT time. If IT must spend so much time on network changes and troubleshooting, tirelessly trying to find the root cause of underlying issues, how can one ever expect IT to scale to the needs of digital? Cisco also announced the Network Data Platform and Assurance that will change this. By using machine learning, combined with Cisco's customer support intelligence, this solution allows IT not only to quickly correlate the data and identify the source of the problem, but also predict and prevent it.

OPPORTUNITY TO LEAPFROG

In the Asia-Pacific and Japan (APJ) region, companies spend about US$11 billion every year running networks. When you think about this cost in the context of how manual, error-prone and time-consuming current techniques are, it is hard not to recognise the substantial opportunity that a digital network can provide - all at a time when innovation and fast go-to-market is critical to business success.

Honestly, network transformation is not an easy task, especially for bigger companies. It compares to a large aircraft at cruising altitude trying to make a sharp turn. Customers, services, devices - nothing can be put on hold, so the shift must be steady.

From this perspective, APJ may actually have the advantage to leapfrog in the market. In many countries, networks are still at early stages of maturity. This can represent an opportunity for companies to innovate much faster, as they are less held down by complex, legacy networks delaying the transition to a digital approach.

HIGHEST RISK OF CYBER ATTACKS

Asia-Pacific encountered the most cyber attacks in 2016 compared to other regions. In fact, 2016 was a record year with ransomware families growing by a whopping 752 per cent and netting US$1 billion in monetary gains.

If other reasons weren't powerful enough, security should be the overwhelming catalyst for companies in Asia to digitise their networks. Not only does the immaturity of many networks in the region leave them particularly vulnerable, the market complexity - with too many vendors and products - exposes companies more than it protects them.

This is where Cisco takes a completely different angle from other vendors, by offering an integrated approach that taps into all of the data that flows through the network and leverages the visibility only the network can provide. This is how Cisco makes security a lot simpler and effective - the most effective it can get these days.

As threats become more sophisticated, Cisco is also adding new capabilities to stay ahead of the bad guys. For instance, the newly announced Catalyst 9k delivers the ability to detect threats in encrypted traffic with near 100 per cent accuracy, leveraging machine learning and the unique visibility to all flows on the network that only Cisco can provide. In addition, SDA finally makes network segmentation easy to implement, something we have been talking about for years, but has been difficult to do. With the rising number of devices and points of attack in Asia, SDA can now segment the network with just a few clicks - separating the trusted and untrusted and dramatically minimising the impact of attacks like the WannaCry ransomware.

  • The author is Cisco's managing director, Software and Network Transformation

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