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Using Cisco DNA Center for Network as a Platform

Published: July 2018

Cisco IT operates a large, global enterprise network, which means we are always looking for ways to simplify and streamline our operational tasks. Until now, we have used a variety of Cisco solutions for network management, some with a broad scope and others focused on particular types of network elements or services.

As we transition the Cisco network to Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA), we are making a parallel transition to Cisco DNA Center for all network management activity. Cisco DNA changes the perspective for network management because it moves away from standalone network products to elements that are tightly coupled with automation controllers and assurance engines. This change is reflected in Cisco DNA Center, which integrates the network with IT processes, allowing us to automate workflows across disparate systems and streamline operations across Cisco domains.

By adopting Cisco DNA Center we are improving our network management capabilities now and starting the evolution to a future where the network operates as an intent-based platform for IT and business applications. You will see us get even more aggressive with how we deploy new technology in this space and Cisco DNA Center has been an exciting opportunity for Cisco IT to co-develop with engineering. Ultimately, our goal is to be Cisco’s “Customer Zero” – where Cisco IT help validate deployment design, develop operational best practices, and establish use cases that others can learn from.

Starting the Transition

We have made an initial deployment of Cisco DNA Center infrastructure in three major nodes and the assurance capabilities in 15 corporate sites around the world. Over time, we will expand this deployment to cover the entire Cisco network.

Initially, we are using Cisco DNA Center for network management activity related to device provisioning, compliance, and updates.

Cisco DNA Center tools for plug-and-play devices will help us automate provisioning activity, determine whether it was successful, then automate steps when remediation is needed. This automated provisioning is essential for our goal of delivering a “branch as a service” capability that will allow fast IT service implementation and network connection for remote offices.

For compliance, Cisco DNA Center will help us more easily detect when network devices are out of compliance with standard IT and security configurations. The software will also track in our change-management system the request and completion for the necessary update to device configuration.

We will also use Cisco DNA Center to automate routine upgrades to software images in network devices and track them through the change-management system integration.

The Value of Integrations

We have begun to explore the many other integrations offered by Cisco partners for connecting their network management tools with Cisco DNA Center. “Strong API offerings are key for IT shops to be able build their own critical integrations,” says Stephen Hoover, manager of the network management team in Cisco IT. “But leveraging the integrations created by Cisco DNA Center and our partners brings tremendous value in reducing the work required to create and support common integration points.”

For example, instead of manually writing scripts, our network engineers will be able to use existing integrations to automate network provisioning in a way that is faster, better, and more reliable. “The value of any integration is the ability to automate the end-to-end network lifecycle,” says Hoover. “The ability to integrate multiple systems and pass rich data between them for triggering events that can activate automated run books, these are the keys to having a truly automated network environment.”

Measuring Results

We expect that having a single management system and a single controller solution for the entire network will produce significant time savings for our IT operations teams. “Cisco DNA Center will help our engineers identify and solve issues faster because the singular view will help them quickly pinpoint the problem and focus the right resources on solving it,” says Hoover.

We also expect time savings for routine management tasks such as any policy changes that need to be implemented across the network. “Today, a network-wide configuration change requires accessing hundreds of devices and updating them to the newly desired state. This effort takes times, even with a scripted model. Also, you can’t be certain the change has fully propagated, so you need to verify the change across all devices,” says Dipesh Patel, Architect, Cisco IT. “With Cisco DNA Center, all of this interaction will take place through a synchronized controller, ensuring you always know the state of network and changes become faster to deploy.”

To identify other benefits obtained from Cisco DNA Center, we will use six key performance indicators for measuring results.

  • Environmental impact. Improvements in wireless technology and hardware virtualization in Cisco DNA will allow us to reduce physical network infrastructure. We will measure the corresponding reduction in power consumption, space utilization, and management requirements.
  • Speed to provision. Plug-and-play technology allows us to deploy and configure devices faster; we will measure the impact for streamlined IT workflows and reduced time to activate new sites.
  • Agility for change management. Cisco DNA controllers will allow us to substantially scale the number of changes that can be performed within a certain timeframe; we will regularly monitor this number.
  • Infrastructure compliance. We will measure the time required to bring all network infrastructure to full compliance with our current standards.
  • Data insights. Data on case resolution time and averted incidents will help IT teams measure reductions achieved for time to detect (MTTD) and resolve (MTTR) network problems. Real-time data will also help us switch WAN paths as needed to improve performance, and potentially predict network issues.
  • Operational efficiency. Automation of more network management tasks will give IT teams more time for development work. Additionally, more efficient capacity management in the network will give us measurable improvements in bandwidth utilization.

For more information

Cisco DNA Center