Is Cisco for or against automation?

Cisco has long understood the need to market to the Executive/Board Room as-well-as to the Network Engineer; Wall Street and Main Street.  Throughout the years, we have watched John Chambers and company move from an obscure little company to the bell weather of high technology.  Additionally, we have watched Cisco’s certification program move from an obscure “nice to have” to the gold standard of networking professionals.

Today, Cisco Certified X (CCx) is not only obtained by network engineers, but by sales, marketing, and other executives alike.  Why?  Simply put, CCx materials give individuals an excellent education on just about any modern day network infrastructure; routing, switching, cable infrastructure, and more.  Whether or not you take the test is usually based on career/industry advancement (who pays) as well as personal preference toward certifications.

Of course, Juniper Networks has a program of their own and offers a demanding certification called Juniper Networks Certified x (JNCx).  However, Juniper does not have the breadth and depth of products or the market penetration of Cisco, particularly in the enterprise.

The brilliance of Cisco’s certification program is twofold; it gives network engineers a career path and it provides Cisco an army of loyal and trained users.  Resellers and Customers were willing participants in training thousands of network professionals proudly displaying their CCx’s on desks and resumes.  In fact, some companies base career advancement, bonuses, and salary grades on the level of certification that one obtains.  A byproduct of this has been the elevation of Cisco’s IOS CLI to the standard of networking devices; a fact that Juniper continues to fight everyday with JUNOS.   In-turn, this creates bias and a competitive advantage for Cisco vs. competing devices because it’s “just IOS or an IOS derivative” and I know that already.

Today, the winds of change may be blowing as Companies are realizing the economic impact of this system.  In a way, organizations around the world have subsidized Cisco’s growth by providing the means for their staff to become a CCx to the detriment of their bottom line.  This includes hiring of individuals with top-of-the-line CCx certifications, paying for training, paying for tests, promotions, and losing certified individuals to rivals or other organizations.

Compounding the need for CCx or JNCx certifications is the utter lack of automation within the networking industry.  Enterprise Management Systems are inadequate, PERL (the adopted language of networking) knowledge is not easy to find and a bit too powerful for many and third party Network Change and Configuration systems are fighting the commodity label.

In a world where the ratio of network engineers to network devices is ever increasing and the notion of single-vendor (Cisco Powered) deployments is losing steam, why do we accept the idea that manual intervention is the best way to manage our networks?  Why are CCx or JNCx working on less complex activities?   Why are operations personnel beholden to the networking engineering teams?  What good are BPM and BRE if the end result is a human rather than an automated action?  Why allow a PERL developer to be in command of complex changes without guardrails, auditing trails, or (in some cases) networking skills.

Companies are beginning to realize that automation within networking will improve operational efficiencies, reduced downtime, improve SLAs, and reduce MTTR.  They are awakening to the fact that the best use of a CCx is not to be turning up or down ports or building initial configurations; instead it is performing advanced troubleshooting, deployment, or visionary functions.

Automation is paramount to cloud computing, PAAS, SAAS, or whatever else you want to call it.  We can no longer allow networking, or storage, to be the last bastion of manual over automated management.  For a datacenter to be truly cloud-like, most activities across the OSI stack must be automated.   Perhaps, networking is the most important piece as without it nothing works.

It is time for Cisco to get serious about network, storage, server, and security automation.   What happened to the early ideas of a self-managing, self-healing, self-defending network?  If Cisco wants to transform itself into a software company, then transform network management into true network automation.

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2 Responses to Is Cisco for or against automation?

  1. alc8 says:

    Great article, companies really need to think more about network automation. Check out this video and blog article on JUNOS automation tool sets. http://forums.juniper.net/t5/Networking-Now/Why-Operate-when-you-can-Automate/bc-p/26284#C99

  2. kl2217 says:

    Nowdays, company treat Cisco certifications as some kind of must have certifications, but Passing Cisco tests really cost a lot of time and money.

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