Networking

Cisco Live 2017: Artificial intelligence and machine learning will herald in the next era of networking

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins delivered a keynote focusing on the company's intent-based networking solution and Cisco's two-year partnership with Apple. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, was a surprise guest.

The world is entering yet another new era in networking, according to Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, in his keynote address on Monday at Cisco Live 2017 in Las Vegas.

Cisco announced its new "intent-based" networking solution last week, and Robbins discussed it in detail at Cisco Live. The network is an intuitive, artificial intelligence (AI)-based system that anticipates actions and stops security threats as it evolves and learns. It's necessary, Robbins said, because the world will soon be at a point where millions of new devices will be added to the internet every day.

To create the new networking solution, Cisco rewrote 25-plus years of software. "We had to rewrite iOS to a modern data model API-structured operating system," Robbins explained, adding that it allowed Cisco to launch the Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA), which will serve as an analytics platform. And Cisco has also introduced Catalyst 9000 switches with innovations in the hardware (ASIC) and software (IOS XE) layers. These new products have opened up the door to the future era of networking, he said.

In the 1980s, as part of the original era, there were personal computers that were eventually connected to corporate networks, giving rise to the internet. The next era focused on mobility and cloud. And now, there is a third era beginning, Robbins said.

"I believe we all recognize that in 2016 we hit an inflection point. There was a study done in Q3 of last year. The number of new machine-to-machine connections that were added to the network exceeded the number of phones and tablets added to the network," Robbins said in his keynote. "We're moving into a world of unbelievable massive expansiveness. Distributed connectivity across hundreds of billions of devices. And through artificial intelligence, through machine learning and scale, we have the ability to extract greater insights from all these connections than we ever have in the past."

SEE: Cisco Live 2017: Chuck Robbins and Tim Cook discuss iOS 11 security, AR, mobile devices, and cat videos (TechRepublic)

To get the new era right, there needs to be a focus on several components, including the ability to add new devices at scale. "We have 8.4 billion connected things on the internet today. 3.1 billion of those devices are already being used by enterprises to change their business model, sample their predictive maintenance, to drive new revenue streams. And this is the future. Every organization on the planet is going to want to move with great speed at taking advantage of what's possible from all of these projections," he said.

"In 2020, as many as 1 million new connections will be added to the internet every hour. And guess who is going to be asked to make all that happen?" Robbins asked the audience of 28,000 at his keynote address. "All of you. A million connections in an hour. I can just imagine the conversation that you're going to have with your leadership team. Because I know the conversation I'm going to have with my team. 'Okay, great, we can connect them. Now how fast can I get to that business model change, or how fast can I get to this new revenue stream, or how fast can I fundamentally change how I think about maintenance, predictive maintenance, fix things before they break, change the structure of our organization, how fast can I get there?' They're going to say, 'Well, the connections came up on Wednesday, surely by Monday we'll be live, right?'"

As the audience at his keynote laughed, Robbins said, "You only laugh because you probably have experienced some of that, and that's what's going to be asked of all of us. We're going to own this."

The key to being able to adopt so many devices so fast is to change the degree of complexity.

"How do we remove this complexity that was necessary when we kept adding more and more capabilities, more and more features, and we converged more and more technologies? It was necessary. Now we have to bring a degree of simplification that allows us to move faster than we ever have before," Robbins said.

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Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins delivering his keynote at Cisco Live 2017.

Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic

And security is also key. "As we add more and more and billions and hundreds of billions of things, the threat surface expands. And we see this once a month, [when] something major happens. So we have to ensure that we're building security with everything we do as we think about this in the future. So I believe what we're going to do together with all the capabilities that we're going to talk about this week, is we are going to build the secure intelligent platform off which you can run your digital business of the future," Robbins said.

"This will allow you to reinvent and think differently about the pace that you can move, about the speed that you can go to actually take advantage of all that's possible. It will allow you to reinvent your future. And the first thing we felt like we had to do, was we needed to reinvent networking," he said.

We also don't live in a single-cloud world, Robbins said. "I love when people say, 'the cloud.' How many of you have 'a' cloud? There's more than one. It's a multi-cloud world, and you and all of us are going to be asked to navigate that...We have to deploy security everywhere," Robbins said.

Working at scale is crucial. "Everything about this intuitive network starts with intent. This is automation at scale, so for all of you, you want to deploy a security defense mechanism. You can enter it once and have it deployed in scale across thousands of devices as opposed to the way you have to do it today either manually or through scripts," Robbins said.

"That's one example. You already know hundreds of others. Automation at scale. And in the context we've talked about the network sees everything. There's context there that has value," Robbins said. "If you're an airline and you're seeing high rates of abandonment on a reservation system or e-commerce system or whatever you're seeing in the application that manifests itself to your customers from your business, the network actually has insight and context that can help you realize what's happening and help you solve that problem more quickly, helping your business achieve its business objectives. There's so much context in the network."

Robbins added, "We're going to build security deep into the network because the network is going to be the platform across which all these connections come into your world and we have to start planning security the moment they hit the wire or we don't have a chance. So security is deeply embedded to create trust. Then all of this over time creates this adaptive system that understands your intent, has a level of trust built in, that then gets informed by context and constantly adapts and over time can actually adapt itself based on what it knows you're trying to do and the context it has seen flow through the network."

"The network has to provide the ability not only to connect, but also to deal with data at the edge, putting it in a general purpose computer to allow you to run applications and actually process the data at the edge, giving you the ability to have taken the data, actually determine which of it is important to move back to a central data center and then doing so securely," Robbins explained.

As Robbins dove deeper in the topic of device security, he introduced Apple CEO Tim Cook as a surprise guest at the keynote, and security in iOS 11 was discussed.

Cook said, "I hope everybody is sitting ... with developers here today or developers in your organizations and shops. iOS 11 developer release went out earlier in the month. The public beta is coming out very shortly; very, very shortly. and we couldn't be more excited about it."

Robbins and Cook talked in depth about security in mobile devices, and how hackers are no longer run-of-the-mill—it's now a sophisticated enterprise. The result of their collaboration will be that devices in the enterprise will be safer, and security insurance will cost less than with other operating systems, Cook said.

Robbins said, "More to come on that in the future, but it's been a phenomenal partnership [with Apple] and we have always believed in partnerships and when we go in, we have every intention of trying to make them wildly successful. Sometimes they work really, really well, and other times, it tough to realize the vision, but I think ours has just turned out great."

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Last week, Cisco released an intuitive, AI-based system that anticipates actions and stops security threats as it evolves and learns.
  2. In 2020, as many as 1 million new connections will be added to the internet every hour.
  3. We are entering a new era of networking, and device security is more important than ever.

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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