Virtualization Featured Article

The Network is Central in a Hyperconnected World

October 15, 2019

Earlier this month, at the NetEvents Global IT Summit, Ravi Chandrasekaran, SVP, Enterprise Networking Business at Cisco kicked off three intense days of announcements, demonstrations, and networking of the humankind.

With a vision for networking of the digital, virtualized and agile kind, Chandrasekaran painted a picture of enterprise communications taking the audience back to the future (1990s into 2000 when the rapid growth of the Internet and Web began to change everything about how business was being conducted) with a fast-forward to 2020 and what he calls the “second coming for networking.”

“Networking is central to business again,” Chandrasekaran said. “Look at every industry today, whether a bookstore, video distribution, taxi service – every industry is being disrupted. We don't go and get a taxi; we ask a taxi to come to you. You do not go to theatres to watch the movie; you don't go to rent a movie; you stream it. This disruption is fundamental; it's all around networking.”

Cisco forecasts 125 or so devices being connected every second, with twenty-five plus billion new devices coming onboard over the next few years. Companies are moving everything to cloud, and Chandrasekaran says these trends change completely how networking must work.

“The number of devices getting onboarded is a security threat,” he explained. “Most of the policy violations are all human error. Nearly three-fourths of the expense is spent towards running the network and keeping up with all the incidents and the tools. If we really want to move to a digital world, if you want to help digitise the business, you cannot do what you are doing today – you have to change.”

The traditional network was very simple, with branches talking to data centers. “Networking was easier – apply a firewall and go out to the web. The world has changed dramatically. You now have your data center assets being spread all over the world, between many clouds. The topology is changing dramatically. It's time for us to reimagine how we do networking,” he said.

“We need to change from being hardware-centric to software-driven. This is what we call a software-defined network. We need to move from manual operation to fully automated. We cannot just bolt-on security; today, we need to have security built-in as part of the network,” according to Chandrasekaran. “You cannot just monitor the network; you really need to understand what is going on. You need to take the insight. You need to really look at the events in a very different way than what we have done before.”

Cisco calls this intent-based networking. Starting by looking at a network, there must be a controller on top of it, with a way to pool data, and a way to communicate with the network, so the controller finds the complexity.

“This is where you do automation,” Chandrasekaran said. “This is where you do policy. This is where you do analytics. It's actually a closed-loop system. In this, the network we are talking about has built-in security. It's a very different paradigm. They are not bespoke devices. In this type of network, wired is not different, and wireless is not different. You need to think of them as one single thing. We talk of 5G, but Wi-Fi 6 is predominantly coming along all over the place. For a new digital world, you need to move to this new paradigm.”

He spoke about Cisco’s DNA Center, which is a controller they use, which sits on top of wired, wireless, and cloud infrastructure.

“That's where we are going with this whole intent-based network to fully automated data. It allows us to understand and be smarter. It frees up IT from being reactive to being proactive. It's a fundamental shift you need to do in networking if you want to be part of the digital journey the business is going through.”

Chandrasekaran spoke at length about security, giving examples of attacks including a big company who were targeted with malware, and lost $188 million in one single incident. Another example shared was of a big logistics company, a transportation company that lost $300 million due to malware.

“The interesting thing is these threats happen very fast,” he said. “It took only four minutes to bring down a whole network, bring a whole company down. The implications are profound. With digital transformation, the business is running in a very different model. The security source are different. The implications are very different.”

“It takes nearly 200 days to find, on average, that you have a threat inside the infrastructure,” he said. “Even worse, it takes 60 days to fix it because things are done manual. These are very sophisticated attacks. It takes a long time to react. The implication means millions of dollars per incident.

This is the world we live in. When you talk about cyber security, cyber threat, this is what every industry is going through today.”

Chandrasekaran recommended three steps: segmenting the network, creating full visibility into the network, and make sure the infrastructure supports a rapid response in the event of an attack. “Unfortunately, we are very far off that traditional model. Things are done manually. Humans make mistakes too. They don't know the context. They don't know everything that's happening. The traditional segmentation of using VXLAN, or VRF, or ACL – legacy segmentation just does not work anymore.”

After covering the role of identity and access management to ensure more security, Chandrasekaran

shared a vision of the use of AI in networking. “We have the ability to collect data, analyze it, product information and reports, and awesome. Still, there are too many things that's going on to be able to manage the volume without automation. You’ve got cloud, you’ve got applications, you’ve got business rules and end-user experiences to ensure.  The ability for IT to do these still is very hard. The alerts per week, the events that are happening make in infeasible to cover with a controller alone,” he said.

Cisco is using machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) across many networking innovations.

“There are basically three types of data used to do this work. We take things which are unencrypted – there's enough information that we send that out per packet. Second, we look at how the data packing is working. How long the flow is happening. The gap between the packet, the size of the packet, the distribution. We collect all those data. These are all fingerprints. These are all signatures for different interactions. We send it to the cloud. We combine that with all the threat interventions and all the different work we do in the cloud,” he explained.

“When I talk about the need for a digital network, you cannot do what we need to do without these tools,” he concluded. “We’re changing the role of the network. It is becoming once more a critical part of the infrastructure. It's part of the business. It is the business. And within the network for this century, it must be data and automation driven with built-in security. It's time for us to re-imagine networking.”

Arti Loftus is an experienced Information Technology specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the research, writing, and editing industry with many published articles under her belt.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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