Friday, 09 March 2018 15:39

Cisco improves WAN management

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Cisco has announced a pair of products aimed at simplifying WAN management.

The growing number of devices and connections presents "a huge challenge for IT organisations," yet many organisations still manage their networks via the devices' CLI (command line interface), observed Cisco senior vice-president and general manager of enterprise networking Scott Harrell.

Cisco's current vision is "intent-based networking," where automation and machine learning are applied to provide accuracy and consistency across a network, reduce costs, ensure performance, and detect and mitigate threats.

One step towards this is the new Cisco SD-WAN vAnalytics product which he said can "provide insightful realtime information" for troubleshooting, even before users notice any degradation.

It can provide recommendations for dealing with application problems, helping to improve employee satisfactions and productivity, and to handle network traffic generated by IoT workloads.

Other benefits include the opportunity to investigate different scenarios, and improved visibility of network traffic (eg, is it all from legitimate applications).

vAnalytics can also help planners prepare for future demands on the WAN by forecasting likely requirements. This is particularly important as it can take up to 90 days to commission additional bandwidth.

As the product is cloud based, it provides an opportunity for global intelligence. "That's super powerful," said Harrell. For example, it can reveal which carrier in a particular area achieves the lowest latency.

Retail and trade plumbing supplier Reece has 600 branches on 500 sites, all connected by a WAN that is managed in-house, said senior network engineer Peter Castle. The company adopted Cisco SD-WAN last year, and it already covers more than half of the sites.

The benefits have been significant: where it used to take three months and $30,000 to deploy a configuration change to adjust the priority given to a particular applications, the job can be done via SD-WAN in 30 minutes and practically no financial cost.

Reece has been testing vAnalytics to predict bandwidth requirements and to help with troubleshooting. One example was that the performance of an application dropped after certain changes were made to it. Using vAnalytics it took only an hour to determine that the problem was caused by now-inappropriate network policies and to make the necessary changes. The task would have taken days of work without vAnalytics, Castle said.

vAnalytics, which is available immediately as an SD-WAN licence tier, is based on technology from Cisco's Viptela acquisition and is used in conjunction with vManage.

The other new product is Meraki Insight. As the name suggests, it is aimed at users of Cisco's Meraki family of cloud-controlled Wi-Fi network products.

Insight is a new tool integrated into the Meraki dashboard, and according to product architect Joe Aronow it provides end-to-end visibility of the SaaS experience, identifying the source of any performance issues.

That allows prompt remediation, or provides evidence to take to an external provider whose performance is falling short.

Insight automates the collection and organisation of data, and automatically delivers relevant insights - which can include whether there really is an issue, and if there is, who is affected and where the problem lies, said Aronow.

Since historical data is stored, it makes it easy to track down the cause of problems that aren't currently visible, such as when a user reports that a particular application was running slowly yesterday but seems OK today, he noted.

Meraki Insight is expected to be released in Cisco's third quarter, and will be offered as a separate license.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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