Digital transformation, IoT, business messaging & the secured network: Four things learned from Cisco Live 2016 

Las Vegas — Stephen Foster was among the 28,000 attendees down at Cisco Live 2016 this week hoping to hear more about how the vendor can assist him as he works to digitize his business. He didn’t leave town disappointed.

The Toronto-based Foster is the information, communication, automation & technology managing director for EllisDon Corp., the general contracting, construction services and project management giant. He notes that within his field of construction, the IT department has traditionally felt “like a square peg in a round hole.”

But today, IT is no longer considered a “bolt on,” but is now more integrated and more a part of the overall team, he added. “It’s a great time to be in the IT space in this sector. The four corners on this square peg are being rounded.”

At the moment, the company is undergoing a major expansion into digital property concept projects in the U.S. He told IT World Canada that he came down to Cisco Live to hear more about Cisco’s strategy approach to digital transformation. It’s definitely about evolving the network these days beyond simple systems and routers, offered Foster: “The emergence of mobile devices, data analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) has really changed the game.”

EllisDon in particular is looking at network technology as “a way to change the way we build and maintain facilities from a cradle to the grave solution,” said Foster.

This includes ensuring stronger security and interconnected technology processes, from pre-construction, to design build, and to the managed services after construction. For example, the company is focusing on ensuring that technologies such as lighting, metering, closed-circuit television cameras are seamlessly connected on a robust, reliable network: “It’s about getting all these data points onto the network so we can get access to the data and really take advantage.”

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins
Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

For digital transformation, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins honed in the message that there needs to be complete buy-in from the C-level; Foster agrees.

“It was good to hear him say that…it reinforced that the direction we are going in our vertical is consistent with where they are going.”

Cisco recognizes that how businesses interact with the network is evolving

At the Cisco Live 2016 conference, Robbins outlined a vision for the modern network, a scenario where organizations can quickly, reliably, and securely provision services, whether onsite or remotely, within minutes.

According to Cisco’s senior vice president of networking & security David Goeckeler, the company’s Digital Network Architecture, or DNA technology was first unveiled this past March; the open, programmable technology is designed to render network security to an autonomic response when identifying data threats.

This means that enterprises can react in real-time to malware network threats, enabling IT teams to establish new policies or automate remediation via structured programming languages and application interfaces.

Adopting such a “baked-in” approach with Cisco DNA tech to securing the network is key as organizations recognize that the network will be the foundation for digitizing business processes moving forward, Goeckeler said.

Security needs to be open, flexible, programmable for business success

Security was indeed a clear focus for Cisco at the event; the vendor focused on the issue of security, digital transformation and the network with a rather bold claim that it is actively working to ensure that its customers can benefit from tools that will protect them from exploits 100 per cent of the time when using connected devices and value-added services.

Cisco previously announced its new Cisco Security Services for Digital Transformation offering, a service the vendor claims will aid organizations in identifying their readiness to adopt digital technologies. Recognizing that traditional businesses still have a reactive model to security — effectively throwing up a dragnet of point products and perimeter firewalls — the company evangelized a modern digital approach where data and analytics rule the day.

Craig Williams, security outreach manager at Cisco
Craig Williams, security outreach manager at Cisco

Craig Williams, security outreach manager at Cisco, told IT World Canada that while there is no “silver bullet” when it comes to security, it’s about ensuring that companies develop a layered approach to network security: “The reality is, people are going to take their laptops on networks that they shouldn’t. It’s going to happen.”

To that end, Cisco unveiled the following security offerings geared to organizations with multi-branches and/or remote workers:

Cisco Umbrella Roaming: A centralized, cloud-delivered protection approach that aims to  to remove off-network blind spots, guarding roaming employees wherever they work. With Umbrella Roaming, now embedded as a module with Cisco’s AnyConnect VPN solution, organizations can add a new layer of off-network protection that blocks connections to malicious sites without needing to deploy another agent.

Cisco Umbrella Branch: This cloud-delivered solution gives businesses more control over  guest Wi-Fi use with easy content filtering. With Umbrella Branch, businesses can simply upgrade  Integrated Services Routers (ISR) for simple, fast and comprehensive security at branch locations.

Cisco Defense Orchestrator: This cloud-based management application enables users to
easily and effectively manage a large security infrastructure and policies in distributed locations across thousands of devices through a simple cloud-based console. It cuts through complexity to manage security policies across Cisco security products from ASA and ASAv firewalls to Cisco Firepower next- generation firewalls and ASA with FirePOWERTM Services featuring Firepower Threat Defense, and OpenDNS.

Cisco Meraki MX Security Appliances with Advanced Malware Protection (AMP) and Threat Grid : This cloud-managed unified threat management (UTM) solution simplifies advanced threat protection for the distributed enterprise, providing branch offices with malware protection that checks files against its cloud database to identify malicious content, blocking the files before users download them.

Stealthwatch Learning Networks License: This component enables the Cisco ISR to act as a security sensor and enforcer for branch threat protection. It allows businesses to detect and track anomalies in network traffic, analyze suspicious network activity, and identify malicious traffic.

Selecting a suitable security tool, he adds, comes down to the network configuration and how organizations want to defend it. “For a hospital with a lot of IoT devices — insulin pumps, pain medication pumps, gateways — those have to be protected….(but) you can protect those devices without having to actually touch them,” Williams said.

Cisco is betting that enterprise messaging will come of age

Cisco Collaboration’s vice president and chief technology officer Jonathan Rosenberg was pointed in making the distinction between business messaging versus consumer messaging: one enables work productivity and the other is about getting attention.

“The battle has just begun” when it comes to ensuring that enterprise messaging takes hold in the enterprise, he offered.

The company’s collaboration and messaging platform known as Spark currently competes in a world where tools like Slack — which currently has more than three million active users — are grabbing headlines. On the consumer side of things, tools like WhatsApp, Facebook and WeChat are “huge,” he conceded.

But for businesses, the Cisco Spark platform offers group messaging, ensures messages are more accessible via the cloud, can be accessible on any device and can be persistent in presence, all things that are necessary for organizations, he offered.

Spark more seamlessly integrates messaging, video, and calling, connects IP phone systems to the cloud, and can manage network handoffs across 4G LTE and wireless protocols without interruption, he said, adding that the company is looking to incorporate the more than 215 million users of the Cisco WebEX and UC product ecosystem onto the Spark platform.

When it comes to Cisco’s collaboration platforms, “we’re taking business messaging mainstream,” he offered.

IoT is expected to take hold in the enterprise sooner rather than later

Cisco's take on the Internet of Things
Cisco’s take on the Internet of Things

Cisco’s strategy in its recent US$1.4 billion acquisition of the Jasper cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure is with an eye on a world where the Internet and the network extends to the enterprise — including manufacturing floors, energy grids, healthcare facilities, and transportation.

This includes helping reduce complexity when it comes to IoT adoption and improving data deliver across mobile providers.

Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s IoT and applications group, told IT World Canada that IoT and the “connected everything” world, is fast becoming an enterprise reality.

While IoT devices are currently more associated with consumer devices, IoT is key for digital transformation and the benefits will become apparent to today’s businesses as well.

While it’s tricky to predict when the technology might reach critical mass in the enterprise, Trollope notes that Cisco “has been out early in incubation mode.”

The goal is getting enterprises to benefit from data that can be exchanged from many things to many apps.

The company is working to ensure the network is secure, and offers open application development environments for this coming reality, he added.

“We’re looking at (IoT) at an industry-by-industry basis,” he added.

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Ryan Patrick
Ryan Patrick
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