Cisco Looks Ahead to the "Programmable Network"

Programmable network servers

In sharing my thoughts here over the last three or four years, I've had many opportunities to speak to folks inside Cisco Learning. Recently, my most frequent contacts have included Tejas Vashi, Senior Director for Product Strategy and Marketing, and Antonella Corno, Senior Manager for Marketing, both within the Cisco Learning organization.


Ms. Corno has just posted some fascinating thoughts to the Talking Tech with Cisco blog that are much worth reading. As usual, the new post shows off her ability to take technology and put it into a business context while continuing to respect the nitty-gritty details that make it work. It's entitled "Taking Control of the Programmable Network," and it's very much worth a read.


Here's a synopsis of what's on her mind, which should encourage you to seek out the full post. It also shows that while Cisco is considered by some to be a bit late in jumping on Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV), it's not because they've been ignoring it nor because they've not been implementing like mad in the background, either.


Ms. Corno sees SDN and NFV as essentially reinventing networking from the ground up, or as she puts it: " ... the network is undergoing a huge change ... This change is just as big as the move from analog to digital. It is the shift away from physical devices — hardware — to software that virtualizes device functions and supports digital innovation."


It's probable that this all comes as a bit of a shock for a company that's been in the hardware business for more than 30 years (Cisco was founded in 1984) — but that isn't stopping them from jumping in, big-time.


After setting the stage, Ms. Corno recites some facts and figures about the SDN market, including a staggering cumulative annual growth rate of 54 percent from 2014 to 2020 (source: IDC). That makes it worth $12.5 billion by 2020, and means that SDN and NFV adoption and deployment has been, is, and will remain both furious and intense for the foreseeable future.


She points out that moving into the virtualization dimension with SDN and NFV has important implications for organizations that climb aboard that express train. First, it means that automation must replace manual monitoring and management, so as to be able to keep up and scale along with this all-digital and virtual environment.


Second, she observes that analytics become absolutely central to providing insight and intelligence about these kinds of networks, too. This should help explain why Cisco has recently introduced a slate of analytics-focused training, and why it's rolling out certifications in the area of analytics that are focused on the networking world.


Man makes diagram on whiteboard with marker

This also explains why Cisco is set on developing, teaching, and proliferating programming disciplines for network engineers. Such skills, as Ms. Corno puts it, "will enable them [the network engineers, that is] to tap into network intelligence.


"They also will be able to develop powerful new network-enables applications through open application programming interfaces (APIs). With networks abstracted and virtualized, they [those natty network engineers, again] must understand and manipulate SDN controllers and network orchestration systems."


This has profound and widespread implications for those who work in the networking field. Jobs are changing, moving away from "device and platform configurations" and management. What is coming in its place is design, implementation and management of secure policy-based network services driven by ongoing analytics.


Heavy use of abstraction and automation makes this work inside network architectures set up and run through SDN and NFV controllers. Factor in the cloud, and you've got an environment that's quite a bit different from traditional networking.


Skillsets must change away from specific device and platform knowledge to a more general and abstract skill set. The networking professional of tomorrow must know how to program and automate a fully virtualized networking environment.


This is pretty radical talk from Cisco, especially for those who've been following the company for a long time, as I have. I believe they're serious, however, and for the best of business reasons: Cisco's very survival is at stake.


That's what makes talking to the Cisco Learning folks so very interesting of late, and likewise when reading between the lines of this blog post. If you're at all interested in networking and/or virtualization, then you'll want to check this out at length.


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About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.