Cisco Systems is making what it calls game-changing additions to its intent-based networking capabilities, and it is backing the rollout with the biggest investment in channel activation in the company's history, according to executives.
The investment is "to the tune of millions upon millions of dollars," said Nirav Sheth, vice president sales and systems engineering in Cisco's global partner organisation.
"That's how committed and excited we are. We're changing the industry. It is the biggest investment we have ever made in terms of activating the channel. It's a multi-, multi-million-dollar investment we have made and continue to make to activate our partners around the world."
The channel investment takes several forms and is intended to put some sales horsepower behind Cisco's software-based Network Assurance Engine and DNA Center Assurance, new components of its intent-based networking platform that promises predictive analytics and insights into customer networks.
Sheth said Cisco is stoking the Network Assurance Engine and DNA Center Assurance go-to-market strategy with deal registration programs, as well as a migration incentive program for customer refresh deals. The company is also changing its VIP rebate program to better fit the software strategy. Partners will be rewarded a traditional rebate and will also get additional rebates and awards as customers activate the assurance software packages, he said.
The software is available now to ACI and Cisco Meraki customers. All they have to do is activate it, Sheth said. "It ensures key business apps have uptime, and it moves partners more into a security practice," he said. "Our data says security is the No. 1 most profitable area to be in. There's an unprecedented level of security opportunity for partners to uncover and interject into the network. Partners can drive more in the way of lifecycle and adoption services, drive stickiness across the entire timeline of that customer with Cisco."
Some Cisco partners already see significant recurring revenue opportunities with the new software.
Gary Middleton, senior networking practice director at longtime Cisco Gold partner Dimension Data, said the new capabilities within Cisco's intent-based networking platform open the floodgates to dramatically increased recurring revenue streams.
"Customers can start looking at the analytics the network delivers and how that can be fed back into more automated operations," Middleton said. "There's a strong opportunity in infrastructure, and all the services – consulting services, design services, deployment services and ongoing operations – all those service segments represents an opportunity. With these insights, you can help clients improve operationally the way they run the entire infrastructure," Middleton said. "It pinpoints issues, problems far more rapidly."
Predictive analytics and the ability to make assurances about network performance, efficiency and security give partners a strong foothold with customers eager to undergo digital transformation, Sheth said.
"For partners, this is a tremendous opportunity for analytics at the edge. Our analytics can be digested by partners and delivered back to our customers in ways we have never been able to do before. Wi-Fi analytics are available, and that gives you the ability to understand how those devices are interacting with the network, where they're going. It presents a host of opportunities for what our partners can do with their ongoing services capabilities."
Intent-based networking takes customers' business goals and uses software and automation to bring those goals across the network. The system "understands" customers' business objectives, and translates them into network policies, giving customers context, visibility, and insight into their networks.
Network Assurance is what Dave West, Cisco's vice president worldwide sales enterprise networking, calls the next chapter in Cisco's intent-based networking push, which began with the launch of its data centre-based Application Centric Infrastructure in late 2013. Those efforts picked steam with the introduction of the Catalyst 9000 family of subscription-based switches for campus and branch uses.
Since June, more than 1100 customers have bought Catalyst 9000 switches, and 150 of them have started using Network Assurance software, West said. Also, West said about 1.3 million networks encompassing tens-of-millions of devices are attached to Cisco's Meraki dashboard, which is covered by new Cisco DNA Center Assurance software. Providing assurance capabilities and delivering on context will reduce the time they spend troubleshooting and focus on more innovative areas.
Network Assurance is based on mathematical modelling nearly three years in the works by as many as 60 Cisco engineers. The system gives customers continuous visibility and verification of what's going on in their routing, switching, wireless and data centre components. "It guarantees that the infrastructure is doing what it is supposed to do, and provides a means of taking corrective action," said Sundar Iyer, Cisco distinguished engineer.
The system can also predict outages, accelerate changes, assure compliance and provide predictive analytics. "The problem was the inability to predict and assure," Iyer said. "We've been reactive for the last two decades in networking."