Today's network has to be more than the highway that transports data from one place to another. It has to become more intelligent — and enable business innovation. In this episode, hear highlights from our recent Network Automation Livestream as our experts reveal the easiest — and most rewarding — paths to automation, simplification and security.
Published July 12, 2017
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Jeremy Nelson: Hello and welcome to Technomics, Insight’s podcast that connects you with industry leaders as they discuss digital transformation, the modern workplace, and future trends. Today we have a unique opportunity to hear some highlights from our Network Automation Livestream held in April of 2017. You will hear some fascinating conversation amongst our panelists regarding simplification, automation, and security. So without further ado, let’s tune in as the live stream moderator Curt Cornum, Insight’s president and chief solution architect introduces, our panelists.
Curt Cornum: Hi, I’m Curt Cornum with Insight Enterprises and I would like to welcome you to Insight’s 5th livestream event, hosted by Cisco Systems. So I’m going to set the stage for today. Today’s topic is around network innovation. And we could probably spend the entire live stream today talking about why we need network innovation. But I suspect that if you’re watching today, you probably already understand why we need network innovation. So with our panelists today, we’re going to focus more on some of the aspects of how do we do networking as we move forward. How do we make it simpler, how do we add more automation? And then also how do we add advanced security features to the networks as we move forward. So I’m going to introduce the panelists and they’re going to guide the rest of the conversation today. So I’m going to start with Tania, you’re up first since you’re closest. Tania brings over 25 years of industry experience with expertise in networking, systems integration, and consulting. And that’s a short list because I know you’ve done a lot more than that. And she is the Director of Network Practice for Insight. She leads a team of specialists that really help businesses look at how they drive innovation across their organizations and really differentiate themselves in the market. So I really appreciate you being here today.
Tania Ondrejka: Thank you, happy to be here.
Curt Cornum: And Mario Castro next to Tania, welcome. Mario is the Director of Operations for the US Commercial Business for Cisco Systems and is a sales leader for that organization. Mario is responsible for over 2.7 billion dollars’ worth of sales across the products and services. And that’s a global responsibility that Mario has. He has been doing this for over 30 years, I know in sales and on the technical side of things as well. He helps businesses solve some of the toughest challenges really across a wide variety of industries whether that’s healthcare or manufacturing, or education. So we appreciate your perspective today as well.
Mario Castro: Looking forward to it
Curt Cornum: And then next to Mario we have Rob Parsons. When he’s not out racing his truck, I know your passion is probably around networking, because I know you pretty well. He is a member of Insight’s Technical Leadership Team and Rob plays key role in defining our offerings. And then he’s also out there creating custom solutions for our clients and really getting into the reality of what’s happening in our client’s networks today and showing them how they can really put that technology to work in a secure way and make it agile and more innovative and things like that. So we appreciate you being here as well Rob.
Rob Parsons: Thanks Curt.
Curt Cornum: And last but not least is Scott Shoemaker who was actually my roommate for six months about 12 years ago on a networking project. He probably hates that I mentioned that but I actually thought that we got along pretty well.
Scott Shoemaker: That’s great.
Curt Cornum: Just got to throw it together for six months. It was actually a great project and I learned a lot from Scott. I consider him a mentor in a lot of ways. So Scott has more than 30 years of industry experience and he brings a wide range of expertise really providing strategic view of that full stack around IoT and as well as design and implementation. And he’s worked with enterprises I know of all sizes and complexity. And he just has a real passion and complexity and how do you help bring technology to work and how do you improve IT and the business functions as well. So I feel great to have you guys here today. And without any further ado, I’m going to go ahead and launch into some question and we’ll let you guys respond to them and keep it interactive and candid and we’ll see where this goes. So Tania, you know one of my favorite quotes is Leonardo Da Vinci because I like these big thinkers because they keep me humble I guess. And you talk about simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and so talk to me a little bit about, I mentioned the simplification and what’s that really mean in terms of how we deploy things, how we implement things? What’s the impact that its having on the enterprise today?
Tania Ondrejka: Yeah absolutely. So I think in the realm of network deployment and management, real productivity gains can be realized when we reduce the number of people involved in those processes. And through systems integration and tools that we have available today, fewer touchpoints are required and those productivity gains translate to the business in terms of reduced Op-ex costs. Now I really like a quote by one of the executives of Pizza Hut, because I love Pizza Hut. Who recently said when it comes to simplicity, sometimes it takes a whole lot of technology to make things simple. And I think when we as IT professionals are deploying our new solutions, that simplicity is a key characteristic that we need to be striving for. Because the customers and our workforce expect it, they require it. And sometimes that simplicity is translated into cost savings as I described earlier, but sometimes it also translates into revenue growth. So sticking with the pizza theme, in 2016, Dominos actually increased their market share by 15%. Largely due to an application that they launched enabling their customers to order pizzas via text message and even emojis on any mobile enabled platform and be able to track the status of their order as the pizza was being prepared. So I think whether we’re talking about end user applications or we’re talking about workforce enablement and automation, and types of tools, I think simplicity is key.
Curt Cornum: Got it. So Scott, beyond the pizza analogy what are some other areas where you’re seeing simplification show up in other IT operations and some of those areas you’re involved in?
Scott Shoemaker: Yeah I really like that quote, because it really does illustrate an important point that Tania was making that simplicity is not about making networks very simple as one of our colleagues likes to say, its not just two cans and a string. Networks are more sophisticated than they’ve ever been, but operationally what enables that simplicity that she was talking about is the technology and it’s the software defined networking technology. That very simple concept that says separate the control plane from the data plane. When they first started talking about software defined networking, I think everyone was scratching their head. What does that really mean? But what we’re seeing happen of course as that is playing out is that control plane, the data plane is letting the switches and routers and firewalls do the things they do switching packets. But the control plane is all about the configuration, the management of the device and when you separate that out in terms of the software, now you can bring that function to a centralized point. So you have something that typically, called a controller, that is now controlling all those network devices. And so the simplicity comes from that centralized point, the fact that you don’t have to go and touch every device. In terms of the configuration, often times, the syntax of doing the configuration or the moosads [assumed] and changes are abstracted somewhat by that centralized controller. And so that’s where we’re seeing the simplicity actually become a reality.
Curt Cornum: I mean I’ve seen more acronyms out there that start with SD-something. Its like SD anything, SD everything today. And Mario, I know you’re on top of that and there’s a lot of hype in the market around SDWAN and SD generally. Can you kind of cut through some of the hype and help us understand.
Mario Castro: So software defined marketing has been something that a lot of customers have been perusing for quite a few years, and there’s different pillars if you will around areas of focus. But the one that’s grown the fastest and the one that’s moving the fastest is around SDWAN, Software Defined Wide Area Networking. And there’s numerous reasons for that. To the point that Scott made earlier around orchestration and automation, that’s one of the key levers that I think customers are really looking to drive that performance and that capability and that functionality that they’re looking for. And those applications that they own and that they’re responsible for. The second thing around that, which I think is very compelling for customers is around the transport. When we think about the transport today its typically been MPLS [assumed] or circuits frame relay if you’re still doing something like that. But the transport of tomorrow is really broadband. Its also 4G LTE type services. And when you think SDWAN and the functionality that it brings to the table, many of our customers are actually recognizing to introduce new technology to provide all the functionality that Scott mentioned. But at the same time, reduce the total cost of ownership. And in some cases, maybe have a payback within three to four months of that deployment. So in other words, using new technology without ever having to fork into a capital expenditure. You use your operational expenditure to go ahead and drive that performance.
Curt Cornum: What’s some of the areas that you’ve seen where they’ve been able to bring simplification to bare? Maybe things where you still see where they need to bring simplification to bare.
Rob Parsons: Sure, so one of my favorite areas to talk about in this space is really guest Wi-Fi. So historically we’ve been able to have simple or secure. And we really have the need to have both now. So how do we get there? And we work with a variety of technologies that now allow us to take the user and to path themselves through registering, gaining the proper access, gaining access to the systems that they need through a guest portal. And to Tania’s point, how do we take more people and more steps out of that process to make it simple. So guest Wi-Fi of today, we’re able to identify who the user is, what they need access to, and give them that access in a somewhat automated fashion and that really simplifies the experience. In days of the past, we had to call the help desk, ask for an account, get two or three people involved, tell them what we needed. So really to be able to use a system to take us through that process today is making guests user experience much simpler than it has been in the past.
Curt Cornum: Yeah with as hyperconnected as we are, that just seems like an expectation. When we have visitors show up at our office, that’s the first thing they ask us. How do I get connected?
Rob Parsons: Can I get on the Wi-Fi.
Curt Cornum: You’re doing presentations today and there’s almost an assumption that you may be pulling data not from the laptop, that you’re actually pulling it in real-time from other places. And I think that’s great and I’m the same way whenever I go to see clients and partners, I want to be connected as well.
Jeremy Nelson: I hope you’re enjoying this livestream panel discussion. We’ve got to take a quick break. But when we come back you’ll hear Tania, Scott, Rob, and Mario discuss automation.
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Jeremy Nelson: By now, you’ve heard about the impact of simplicity in the industry. We will now hear some of the comments discussed regarding automation, another critical piece in network innovation.
Curt Cornum: So Mario, I want to come back to you because you mentioned the SDWAN piece and essentially because if we kind of shift from the simplicity piece, because you guys mentioned automation a few times. Can you talk a little bit about and maybe a little deeper around the automation aspect around that operational piece, or maybe the policy based piece.
Mario Castro: Yeah absolutely. You know automation is critical today. Probably for all the reasons you’re going to ask us, maybe even we’ll talk about, and that is the speed of the market. Our executive leadership team our customers are all asking for certain solutions to be up and running in a very quick mode. And without automation, we can’t be agile, so we absolutely need automation to help us be agile. But we also need to make sure that we’re consistent in what we’re delivering and automation helps us do that. We need to make sure that whatever it is that we put in place, we can put in place across the entire organization. And we basically move the needle in every direction that we need to to ensure success around that. And ultimately, at the end of the day, it also helps us reduce errors. When you think about automation and the process behind that, once you’ve nailed it down, you should be able to deploy that without any concern or risk around what its going to be when you add the fifth or sixth or seventh device to the environment. Its also important that automation be something that can be supported on premise or in the cloud. And we’re seeing a lot of customers thinking about the whole process around SDWAN and how they can potentially consume that. Whether its an on premise solution or in the clouds solution. And at the end of the day, you’re probably thinking to yourself, by the time I do automation, do I really have some resources that I can actually leverage to focus on other things around the business besides technology and focus on adding or removing devices or maybe even tweaking those devices for quality service, cost services, all the other great things that come along. And you know, IoT is really driving a lot of that effort and at the end of the day we’ve got to be able to move at the speed of business as I mentioned earlier. And I said that’s basically what we’re seeing around automation and how important that is.
Rob Parsons: I think if we get down to the details and take it down a little bit, the days of network engineers having to touch every device in the process of rolling out an infrastructure enhancement, those days are waning. I think now with the tools that we have to us and the functionality, we’re able to do zero-touch deployments. We’re able to do things like plug and play. There are even applications and tools available that enable our customers to go in and find network policy, and then have that network policy automatically translated into the syntax that the networking devices understand and be able to deploy those configuration changes in a matter of minutes. And actually, Semantic is an excellent example of this. So last year, Semantic adopted Cisco’s Easy QOS [assumed] application that runs on the APICEM [assumed] platform. And they were able to modify their quality of service configuration throughout their network infrastructure within a matter of minutes. Prior to leveraging that tool, it took them six months to make those kinds of changes.
Curt Cornum: Rob are you seeing folks that are actually, that are using this zero-touch. Its almost becoming, some of the infrastructure, I won’t say its disposable, but folks, they just expect it to be like Scott was mentioning, you separate the data plane from the control plane and expect the hardware to be able to be put in and it phones home and pulls down centralized policy and that’s kind of that automation architecture. Do you see folks that are actually doing that out in the field today? Is it more hype or tell us about what you’re seeing?
Rob Parsons: No, its real today. We see more and more customers doing the one-touch or zero-touch type deployments. Where really the rubber meets the road for me is a lot of the cloud technology. So like you said, the separation between the hardware and the software. Shipping a box on site, it can be plugged in, it can be connected by an office admin or something like that and hey its online. And being able to go from there, its built on a template, everything is simple. And that goes back to what we were talking about earlier is how do we simplify this. The way that we’re getting there is though some automation and templating and really overall simplification of the deployment activities, less touches.
Curt Cornum: Got it. Scott I know you kind of like to look at the big picture and when we start talking about some of these automation things, a lot of people start freaking out because they think they’re going to lose their jobs and things like that. Mario touched on that a little bit. What’s your view of that. What are some other opportunities you think folks can do that are probably in that mode were they’re just kind of used to doing command line type of stuff. I know Tania, you mentioned some opportunities. How are you seeing folks actually take advantage of that today?
Scott Shoemaker: Well the aspect of that, with all the things that have been discussed, is what hasen’t changed is that networks still need to be engineered. There still needs to be planning and design and how are you going to deploy this. And the aspect of that is when it comes to the automation now, is that the open APIs are available so that you can customize all of this. It’s not a one size fits all sort of solution. The open APIs introduce a whole new aspect of technology into that command line mentality where now you can do programming. Those programming calls, you have a programming language, and so you can take all of those steps with the command line and other things that typically you’ve been doing and write programs to do that. The interesting thing there is when customers are worried about that and say, “I’m not a programmer, I’m a network engineer.” But there is a spectrum of capabilities in the marketplace today. That at the highest level, or the highest level of abstraction is OEM types of tools where it is tied very closely to particular products, its more graphical in nature so its more intuitive. But then you can get more flexibility perhaps by using some sort of an open tool, so now you’ve got a wider range of things you can be applying that to. And then the most flexibility of course comes with just writing your own programs to do all of that. And so with that spectrum, depending upon your requirements and comfort level, there’s different ways to customize and take advantage of those automation capabilities.
Jeremy Nelson: We’ll be back with more of our network innovation livestream in just a minute. Stay with us.
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Jeremy Nelson: The security pillar is critical to this conversation to drive simplification and automation. Let’s listen in to further discussion on security.
Curt Cornum: We talked about the simplicity piece, and then we talked a little bit about the automation and the connection to simplifying the operational pieces, although there’s more to it than that. But I want to talk about the security piece because I mentioned it a little bit. It came up in the other livestreams around my data is not tucked neatly and securely behind my firewalls like it used to be. My users aren’t behind my firewall like they used to be. And they’re using all these different devices. Oh and by the way, my customers want to get on my network and my partners and my suppliers. Everybody wants on, and they want the data and its just been far flung. So the security piece of it really just seems be critical. That we need to figure it out if we’re going to really drive the first two. If we’re adding complexity to the environment, we need to find these simplification methods to kind of counteract that piece of it. So Mario, I’ll kind of start with you, obviously its top of line for a lot of folks. I don’t really have a specific question except kind of around some of those general innovations that you see Cisco working on and others in the industry that really kind of give you some hope that we’re going to level the playing field around some of those sophisticated hackers that are out there. And how are we going to deal with that?
Mario Castro: Absolutely. So you know the biggest challenge that we have today, and I mentioned earlier about moving at the speed of business, we’re talking about things like IoT which many of us are still trying to wonder what those devices are going to be constructed into the infrastructure. At the end of the day, its coming and it coming very quickly. It ranges anywhere in the numbers of 26 billion to 75 billion depending on what year you’re looking at in terms of how that’s being measured in particular. But what customers are expecting today is to not only be able to identify when a breach has occurred, but at the same time how do we remediate it? We struggle still as an organization out there with regards to dealing with security by identifying what comes to the systems. The information manager that helps us identify where we’ve had some anomalies, maybe some false positives and the likes to that. And at the end of the day, we can’t keep that pace going. If we don’t figure out a way to take what many customers are suffering with and that is by the time they figure out they’ve had a breach, its probably been close to 100 days unless it’s a ransomware situation, which they are pretty much dealing with immediately. And so if we can move from a 100 day detection, to something in the hour ranges, in the minute ranges, that’s really going to be the difference in being able to continue to move at the speed of business and being able to add these devices that we’re talking about. And I would argue that at the end of the day, its got to be the analytics that we’re reviewing though machine learning and through other aspects of materials that we would have and solutions that we would have to complement artificial intelligence in such a way that we can start allowing ourselves to be leveraging that kind of technology to help us move at that speed. Because that really is what its going to take to analyze all that data. Whether its coming from emails, whether its coming from the web, whether is coming from antivirus, whatever the element is, all this data is collected, we have to be able to summarize it and act upon it very quickly.
Scott Shoemaker: And it comes through several things. One is visibility, another is intelligence as we’ve been saying. Another is automation which is different. The intelligence is more of the analytics, the automation is more of what do you do when you figure it out. And the last area is integration. In the security piece, that is also really critical. So you take those and put them together and now you can take all these different point solutions and these different capabilities to detect different source of threats and then how do you react to those. And in order to get the time down, you’ve got to have the intelligence to analyze it quickly, determine what’s going on. And then as soon as you know that, be taking action to either quarantine or block or somehow remediate whatever that threat is. So those are the things that are coming together and we’re seeing that in of course lots of different products. Sometimes contained in them or a couple things work together. But one thing that I think is really powerful now is with a lot of these capabilities in the cloud, now you’re letting your vendor worry about the integration piece and a lot of the other analytics and keeping current on what those threats are with the cloud, you don’t have to be worrying about all that within your organization and finding staff to be paying attention to that. Your vendor’s got plenty of people looking at it and taking care of those things for you.
Rob Parsons: So Scott’s point about the integrated solutions, we talked a bit about this last night. Its really key. I have so many customers today that have multiple security solutions that don’t talk to each other today. So if they want to know when somebody came into the network, they want to know one solution. If you want to know what they did while they were there, you’d look at a different one. And if they want to figure out how to approach it afterwards, they look at yet a third solution. And they don’t all talk to each other. But we’re getting to the point where its possible. Where we can integrate different solutions through their APIs. Multiple vendors have integrated solutions leveraging in the cloud that allow us to put all of that data together. And historically with security, the biggest challenge has been correlation of events and figure out how that happened. Whether its early on, or its during or its after. How do we put that all together to execute on a plan to remediate or to stop any sort of security events? And so that integrated solution is really where this needs to go to be effective in my opinion.
Curt Cornum: So Tania, what’s your view just generally around what you’re seeing and talking to clients about around security? Is it around this machine learning real? Are they still struggling with just trying to stay afloat? Do you think they’re going to need to do things like automation before they can really focus on attacking some of these things? Where do you think they’re at today?
Tania Ondrejka: So it depends, typical econ professor answer. I think it depends. And it depends on where the customer is actually at, because honestly it runs the full gambit of people who have invested heavily. I think the typical customer has 40 to 50 different security products in their environment and they may have at least five different OEMs associated with that. So it depends on where they are in the process. But I think that they need to have a good understanding of what they have and a vision of what their business is expecting them to create, to make a reality, and to have a plan in place on how to get there. And most customers don’t. They’re in an environment where they’re just doing the best they can to keep their head above water. Their CFO isn’t offering them thousands or millions of dollars to go build this secure agile infrastructure. So they’re having to prioritize those investments. And I think that’s where having that plan and understanding what the business is expecting of you and how you’re going to prioritize your investments is really important.
Jeremy Nelson: Today we’ve heard highlights from the livestream panelists discuss simplification, automation, and security. If you want to view the entire livestream, visit www.insight.com. That is all the time we have for today. Thank you for having me as your host and thank you for tuning into Technomics.
Robyn Itule: Thanks for listening to Technomics. If you want to find more episodes, you can download the podcasts from iTunes, Google, or your favorite podcast provider. And, for more stories on intelligent technology, visit www.insight.com.