Cisco Systems Inc. is pushing out an update to its DNA Center and it’s a fairly big one that introduces a host of new capabilities to help to improve network performance, speed up adoption and increase scale and security.
Cisco’s DNA Center is an open, extensible management platform for intent-based networking, an approach to network management that uses machine learning to configure networks automatically to match a set of policies defined by administrators. The same approach can also be used to troubleshoot problems without human intervention.
Customers gain access to a centralized dashboard for managing enterprise networks through the DNA Center. The service has become the linchpin of Cisco’s evolving software-defined networking strategy, extending to manage networking equipment from non-Cisco sources too.
The latest release of Cisco DNA Center, version 2.2.2, was announced in a blog post by Cisco Enterprise Networking and Cloud Product Marketing Manager Vivek Bhargava. The release is focused on enabling “strong connectivity, enhanced security and a delightful IT experience,” he explained.
Bringing AIOps to the network
Bhargava announced a bunch of improvements on the performance side that he said will finally make AIOps, or the use of artificial intelligence for IT operations, a reality for network operations. AIOps is all about applying algorithmic analysis of data to detect digital service issues faster and resolve them before they impact business operations. It can help operations teams tame the enormous complexity of modern networks, preventing outages and maintaining uptime.
Cisco DNA Center enables AIOps in a number of ways, firstly by providing full visibility into applications, services and infrastructure through Cisco’s ThousandEyes observability tool. Bhargava said it’s particularly suited to companies that run hundreds of apps on distributed architectures and multicloud platforms with a complex web of application programming interfaces.
“Cisco ThousandEyes provides monitoring for such environments extending from access to cloud using agents installed and running on Catalyst access switches,” Bhargava explained. “Cisco DNA Center makes the integration of these ThousandEyes agents on access switches easy by managing their installation, updating and removal lifecycle.”
Other AIOps enablers include a new “comparative analytics capability” that helps users to evaluate the performance differences of network devices and clients, and dynamic Wi-Fi coverage heat maps that track the performance of Wi-Fi deployments in real-time. There’s also a new integration with Ekahau Inc. to help customers plan their Wi-Fi deployments to optimize performance, Bhargava said.
In addition, Cisco has built an express workflow into DNA Center that helps customers get up and running faster and use features such as automation and assurance within minutes of plugging it in, Bhargava said. “A network controller should be as easy to start and run as the network devices it controls,” he wrote.
Cisco DNA Center has also gained tools to help companies transition from an older Layer 2 access model to a “zero trust” model that grants access based on details about individual users, their jobs and the security status of the devices they’re using.
“Cisco DNA Center now allows custom ways you can gradually transition your current network to SD-Access,” Bhargava said. “Use new features that do not require you to reconfigure existing VLAN-IDs and avoid disruptive and time-consuming efforts and jump-start your conversion process.”
Scaling networks and security
Bhargava said that as well as improving the performance of Cisco DNA Center, a lot of effort has been made to ensure that customers can scale up their network coverage as they grow. To that end, Cisco DNA Center now runs on a three-node cluster with extra-large appliances, doubling its capacity for the number of endpoints it can handle, he said. With this, customers will be able to manage growing networks of users and devices while bringing down the cost per endpoint, he said.
Users will also benefit from faster upgrade times, with DNA Center now capable of sending out updates to up to 1,000 Catalyst 9000 network devices per hour.
Another new addition is the ability for DNA Center to continuously monitor the behavior of each endpoint to ensure they remain trustworthy after initial checks have been made and access policies have been defined. It works by regularly cross-referencing each endpoint’s behavior with its posture and vulnerability status, assigning a numerical trust score to each one, so administrators can quickly determine if any should be quarantined or removed from the network.
In a final update, Cisco DNA Center now provides a way for customers to measure their return on investment when using the platform, Bhargava said.
“You use its advanced automation and deep analytics every day to keep your networking humming and the business running. But do you know exactly how much your are improving your efficiency?” Bhargava asked. “Cisco DNA Center can now tell you exactly how much time and money you are saving based on your usage.”
Analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc. told SiliconANGLE that Cisco has provided a welcome set of updates to its DNA Center at a time when network operations and monitoring has become increasingly complex amid COVID-19 and the shift to remote work.
“Complexity and security have both peaked, so enterprises need all the help they can get to stay on top of their network operations,” Mueller said. “Cisco is coming to the rescue by enlisting the help of AI and machine learning to get the job done with its DNA center. Companies will embrace any help they can get to operate their networks more efficiently and securely.”
Cisco DNA Center 2.2.2 is rolling out now, and existing customers will be prompted to upgrade to the new version automatically.
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