Cisco Passes the Torch from Humans to Machines

Carl Weinschenk

It is impossible to say in the days after what is positioned to be a major announcement whether the news is as earth shattering as the savvy PR and marketing departments built it up to be. Indeed, on first blush, it is impossible to say just how new the innovation is.

That’s important to keep in mind when reading the first sentence of the press release about the introduction of Cisco’s Digital Network Architecture: “Today Cisco unveiled intent-based networking solutions that represent one of the most significant breakthroughs in enterprise networking.”

Those are big words. The sense, at this point, is that the news really is important. The innovation is a network that thinks. It uses machine learning, cyber intelligence (which is apparently Cisco’s moniker for artificial intelligence), analytics and other tools to create a network that “constantly learns, adapts, automates and protects, to optimize network operations and defend against today's evolving threat landscape.”

The network will be driven, according to Cisco, via machine-generated intent, context and intuition. The elements of the platform will be eased into operation from this month until November. Seventy-five organizations are in field trials with elements of the platform.


Craig Matsumoto at Enterprise Cloud News says that the overall idea of intent-based networking is not new. But he seems to be impressed nonetheless:

Under intent-based networking, the network configures itself based on what outcome the user or operator wants. Today, to get the network to do anything requires configuring machines. The intent of "intent" is that a network operator could issue a command -- "prevent Department A from accessing anything in Finance," for instance -- and the network would configure itself to make that happen.

Like many things in modern technology, making things operate is a monumental task. What Cisco is doing is more important than that, however. Zeus Kerravala notes that one of the rationales of the platform is that until now, it was possible for engineers to keep up with network demands. Now, however, digitization makes that impossible for even the most capable network engineer. Machines can beat the best Go player, the best chess player and best network engineers and administrators.

The virtualization of networks is based on the triumph of software over hardware. This new generation of software is awesomely smart and continues, day by day, to widen the gap between it and the humans who developed it. There is nothing new in this thought. Indeed, it is the stuff of familiar science fiction scenarios. The move suggests that the most important networking vendor believes it is time to let the machines take over.

The sophistication of what the machines can do still has a lot of growth: Quantum computing will add orders of magnitude more capabilities. It is likely that Cisco’s announcement indeed is a big deal both for the company itself and, perhaps more importantly, as a signal that a change is at hand in who is running the show.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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