The Future of Cloud is the Network – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series

On this episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast – Interview Series, Daniel Newman and Ron Westfall are joined by Richard Licon, Technical Marketing Engineer at Cisco. Richard’s primary duties include competitive test and analysis for Switching solution architectures.

Our discussion focused on the major trends and drivers as well as the main challenges of the swiftly evolving cloud networking market. We drilled down in our latest white paper, The Future of Cloud is the Network — done in partnership with Cisco — to explore the foundation pillars of cloud networking that are key to the cloud neutral strategy enterprise organizations need in our hybrid and multi-cloud world.

Our conversation with Richard highlighted the following foundation pillars:

  • What the best-in-class infrastructure pillar means to customers
  • How automated secure connectivity is vital to multi-site fabrics
  • Why simplified operations are key to out-of-box solutions and spinning new fabrics
  • The essential role unified management and policy plays in application optimization and attaining holistic visibility across cloud networking environments
  • How pervasive visibility and insights is vital to fabric-wide testing, rich telemetry, and API-first discipline to integrate with existing tooling.

It was a great and stimulating conversation and one you don’t want to miss. Interested in learning more about Cloud Networking? Want to learn more about Cisco’s cloud networking portfolio and why it’s well-suited to fulfilling the foundation pillars and why it’s well-suited to enable cloud neutral strategy? Check out our latest report — The Future of Cloud is the Network — done in collaboration with Cisco.

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Daniel Newman: Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast. I am your host today, Daniel Newman, principal analyst, founding partner at Futurum Research. Thrilled to have this conversation today, talking about the network, and what partner would be more interesting to bring on and talk about the network than Cisco. I think if nothing else warrants a top consideration for this topic. I got a couple of great guests on the show. As always, I appreciate everybody tuning in. And if you haven’t already hit that subscribe button, but I won’t ask you to do that again until the end.

Today’s episode, I have Richard and Ron joining me. We’re going to be talking about some research we did, but we’re going to talk about a lot more than that. We’re going to talk about the big trends driving network adoption, we’re going to talk about the cloud, we’re going to talk about how ITDMs and CIOs need to be thinking about moving their networks forward to making scale and agile and flexible, all those fun words that we marketers love to use, but that when you’re in technology, you actually need to do. So without further ado, let me bring on the guests. Guest first Richard, welcome to the show. Give everyone your name, your specs, talk a little bit about what you do every day at Cisco.

Richard Licon: Hey, thank you, Daniel. My name is Richard Licon. I’ve been working at Cisco systems for about 21 years. I’ve been in the industry for about 25. I started out in tech support working for a company that some of you may know called 3Com, Trouble shot Nicks and Modems all that other stuff. Understood a lot of layer one layer two and I worked my way up to stack. If you think about the OSI reference model, move to routing, move to firewalls, some applications and then what I’m doing at Cisco now is more focused around our cloud network business unit portfolio, and then trying to look at talk to different customers, trying to look obviously technical marketing. A lot of pre-sale support working with our Salesforce is to really make sure that we’re positioning and we’re designing the best solution for our customers.

Daniel Newman: Welcome to the show Richard, appreciate having you here. I know you Ron, we work together but Ron, you wrote a great paper just recently with Cisco and partnership talking about the future of the cloud and the role of the network plays. Give everybody your name, your specs, talk about what you’re focused on over at Futurum Research.

Ron Westfall: You bet. Thank you, Daniel. And yes, research director, senior analysts here, and yeah, I focus on all matters cloud, networking, 5G, you name it. It’s all part of our ecosystem. It’s a very exciting time to be in our industry and I’m definitely looking forward to our conversation today.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely. Ron, we do give you a pretty large mandate and appreciate the research that you do. While you’re getting highlighted all over the web. I see all those quotes in the press and stuff. People want to know what Ron Westfall is thinking. And so everyone here that’s tuned in. Hopefully you all want to know more about what Ron’s thinking, but I’m going to get both Richard and Ron here talking a little bit about what’s going on and why the cloud and the network are inseparable as companies are trying to move forward. I thought maybe we could start off talking a little bit about sort of what we’ve seen over the last few years. Everybody knows that digital transformation was exponential throughout the pandemic. We saw some companies said a decade, some said 20 years at the very least, we probably saw at 20 to 50% speed up by the way that stat was completely arbitrary.

But the point, is most companies will all agree that they had some speeding up of their investments in digital network cloud technology. And I think it’s kind of interesting to say, “Hey, now that we’ve had a chance we’re in the back innings, it’s not over yet guys, it’s unfortunately this thing kind of is, keeps climbing on”, but what are some of the big trends? Richard, I’ll start with you that you’re really seeing right now in the wake of the pandemic that are going to drive the next phase of infrastructure investment and other network improvements?

Richard Licon: Yeah. Thanks Daniel. I’m seeing… It’s kind of interesting as you mentioned, kind of the acceleration post pandemic and how this digital transformation we’ve been talking about it for years. I remember when John Chambers from Cisco had talked about this many moons ago, but really what we’re seeing here is this evolution of from operations, a focus on simplicity, customers really want to do what they can write and have a cookie cutter approaches. And then also you see a migration from bare metal to VMs to now containerization. So I think that’s probably top of mind seeing how customers is containers have short life and they’ll spin them up maybe have them running for 24 hours and then terminate them and then spin up a new container.

Then how do you network for that? But then ultimately what’s that visibility look like? How can I drill down into that level of virtual infrastructure, physical infrastructure, and customers really want to be able to be prepared. You don’t want to see any kind of network outages or glitches or anything that’s going to take them offline and lose important revenue or have some critical applications down so that’s kind of what I’m seeing around the landscape these days.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. Those are some of the things that are on my mind too. Ron, I’ve got a few, but before I give mine, I’m going to give you the first dibs to see kind of what are some of the big trends that you’re seeing coming out that are really influencing what’s going on in the network and the cloud adoption.

Ron Westfall: Right on. Yeah. It’s amazing. The array of drivers out there and I’ll focus on use cases and services. Certainly a video comes to mind, for example, while video may have killed the radio star, it will certainly help save the cloud star. It’s rising and we see it on the consumer side, 4K, AK video also AR VR type of applications for multi gaming scenarios and so forth. But it’s also certainly on the work and business side. For example, we touched on work from home and distributed workforces, and that’s just going to demand more video capabilities for video collaboration, video conferencing, digital twins, doing R and D from the home and so forth so that I think is definitely a key driver that’s across the entire ecosystem.

And on the industry 4.0 side, we’re seeing more specialization. Networking that is attuned to the specific needs of verticals. And I think that’s going to become more important because whether you’re talking about, for example, a 5G network environment or any multi-cloud environment, there’s just going to be more demand for lower latency, higher bandwidth, more policy control, being able to control a fabric in real time and so forth. So I see all these things definitely interrelated and are definitely contributing to these trends and escalating demand across the industry.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. You brought up a few. I like that and if I could kind of summarize it really, that there’s a huge shift of secular trends that are driving demand. It’s from just going to 5G. It’s the mass adoption of video for all types of communications. We saw the pandemic certainly fueled that further, a higher resolution video. We don’t want just video. We want good video and of course you can go all the way out to the metaverse and what we’re trying to do in a practical term of things like VR. The actual application of immersive experiences so that’s definitely big. I think we’re also seeing the streamlining of DevOps at scale. Companies realize how flexible and agile they need to be and then I think just two other trends I’d want to touch on is just how much the hybrid market has become the market.

Hybrid cloud is the way. I think there was a time where people said everything was going to public cloud. I think it’s largely been decided that’s not the case for all, but a small subset of companies that can run everything in SaaS type applications, just not realistic and actually beyond hybrid, it’s really multi. So companies based upon needs are really looking at scaling out everything they do, to be able to run multiple clouds. Sometimes that is related to sovereignty and redundancy issues. Sometimes it’s related to certain services that one cloud offers versus another, that just fits the profile and the need of the customer, but across the board, it isn’t going to be a winner takes all. In fact, it’s going to take an ecosystem and that’s something that one, the companies that get ecosystems are going to do particularly well. Now, with all that in mind, there are also a ton of challenges out there that are slowing companies.

So while all this adoption has been forced and everyone’s accelerating and moving forward. I think that being able to get to the cloud faster has been hamstrung. It’s been hamstrung by culture. It’s been hamstrung by the distribution of applications. It’s been hamstrung by trying to bridge all these different “ops”. It’s been hamstrung even by the speed companies just look at the talent issues we have right now. Richard, what are you seeing? What are some of the things that I think the tech is there, but the tech is kind of always ahead of the ability for companies to implement. What are you seeing as some of the big challenges out there?

Richard Licon: Yes. You’re spot on Daniel. Ultimately, we’re seeing kind of this, maybe a fear of the unknown people that want to transition, but sometimes they can’t keep at space. They want to be agile, but they don’t have the skill sets to necessarily adopt some of these principles and really understand. And there’s that you have some mindset that they can’t see it, they don’t know what’s happening. So it’s kind of a faith or understanding what the cloud can actually offer them. But to your point we do see customers not having all their eggs in one basket, wanting to see if they can leverage something in AWS or GCP or Azure, Oracle even, and have those redundancy models, being able to have something that leverages the different availability zones and have redundancy for DR to make sure that they can really have an application that can coexist to the exact point you’re talking about is hybrid.

How can I have something, the application that’s OnPrem and in the cloud and instantiate, but still have that same experience and still drive that same level of capability and customers want that. So I think there’s a… It’s definitely an evolution we’re seeing more and more customers want networking architecture, and they want to be able to really understand, not just understand the plumbing, but how can I really understand some of the services and maybe instantiate policy for that too. So it’s that I did, OnPrem, that’s thrown the cloud as well so that’s kind of typically what I’ve been seeing.

Daniel Newman: And Ron, you wrote some really good stuff in the recent paper about cloud networking, coming together in the code. I’d say interdependence upon the two, but you also did point out a lot of these challenges. One of the ones I thought was really interesting that you point out I mentioned was bridging NetOps, DevOps, SecOps. You think that would be easy, but not so much.

Ron Westfall: No, that’s a reality. It’s quite simply the way that many of these organizations have evolved. And it stands to reason naturally once specialization where it’s warranted, that’s why you have a NetOps team, a DevOps team, a SecOps team, et cetera. There’s even DevSecOps and so forth. And what the challenge is how do we really unify these domains so that they can, first of all, be able to focus on their primary missions that is, they’re not having to stop and fiddle with something that is on the other side. And that’s where you definitely need elegant solutions that allow this unified cloud administration and so forth. It doesn’t matter what the environment is you have to have that capability built in. And likewise, it’s also enabling the organization to streamline their operations, but certainly their operation costs, their business processes and so forth.

And so, yeah this is something that is going to require a cultural wide recognition. It’s going to have to be driven really by the CXO decision makers to really make this successful. And we’re seeing progress in that regard. However, it’s a journey, it’s something that’s going to take time and there’s going to be hits and misses. And hopefully there will be more hits than misses, but I think we’re definitely learning some object lessons as to how to really optimize that hybrid multi-cloud environment to the competitive advantage of that organization using them.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely. So in the paper we provided several, what we kind of say are the key requirements to really bridge this gap in bringing networking cloud together, to enable the enterprise, every organization on the planet to make the right investments, to build the most efficient enterprise, to leverage its data, to run its applications, to connect in a hybrid and remote world, all those things. And so what I’d love to do with both of you as sort of the meat of the conversation is kind of do the rundown identified five of those sort of trend lines or this topic starters. The first thing that I thought was really well considered or well pointed out Ron in the paper was just the importance of best in class infrastructure because let’s face it, not all is created equal. Why did you think that beyond the obvious, why is it not all equal? Why do customers need to really focus on getting their infrastructure right?

Ron Westfall: Yeah. I think it’s a definitely one of the key fundamental pillars. And when you hear the term best in class of infrastructure, you have to wonder, what does that mean? You have to separate the height from the reality. And so I think it’s an opportunity to understand, why can an organization consider what can be called best in class all the way from the ASIC to the cloud networking principles themselves. In other words what do customers gain with being able to use custom Silicon and being able to drive their cloud networking strategies? And so we see capabilities such as rich telemetry, secure and always on capabilities, multidimensional testing that’s based on real world customer deployments, and also being able to apply verified scalability design guides. Now that go beyond the theoretical hardware support capabilities, again, separating height from reality and Richard, I think this is a great opportunity to talk about what Cisco contributes in this regard.

Richard Licon: Yeah, spot on Ron. I think and as Daniel had kind of stated up front is a lot of times customers are… We’ve all talked about software defined, but we all know software has to run on hardware. And obviously, looking at best in class infrastructure starts like from the ASIC and all the way up to the software components. Maybe to the controller, how that process is being managed, scheduling, whether it, whatever day two operations of visibility you need, but having that custom Silicon, that rich telemetry that you mentioned, being able to send that out to a data lake and ingest that information is paramount right now because customers want to see that visibility. But imagine having that ASIC level visibility where you can understand the boxes, the buffers, the Q drops, the kind of things that customers really want to know and understand kind of like pop in the hood of your car and looking at the engine.

A lot of the times people don’t pop up to open the back of a switch, but there’s custom Silicon there that Cisco’s been creating for years. And there’s very few vendors that actually build their custom Silicon. But what you get with that is understanding the true scalability for multidimensional type of tests that you talked about. I think that’s something that customer’s kind of walk away with that confidence they see transparency there. They see, “Okay, we understand that, yes, this engine can drive 210 miles per hour. We’re not going to be doing that for maybe five… I shouldn’t be doing that.” But they want to see more of a drag race and sometimes theoretical boxes or theoretical specifications will quite quote numbers that when you start turning on multi features simultaneously outside of the control plane and the data plane there’s some kind of contention there.

So you want to make sure that you can characterize that CP utilization understand that memory footprint, and really start looking at these features from the best in class infrastructure, to what it can support for the customers. And I think when you see that stuff some of the stuff that you have built inside that flexibility, but ultimately the security, I think those are the kind of the cool things that the customer Silicon at Cisco can really offer to our customers.

Ron Westfall: And that really cues it up because another key pillar we identified in our research is automated, secure connectivity. And as we see there are about 90% of Cisco customers are building EVPN VXLAN fabrics and growing them beyond single sites. And so what we are very interested in knowing more about is how can users encrypts their WAN weights to be secure. In other words, capabilities such as CloudStack, a product of Cloud Scale ASICs, how can that then be automated across a multi-site fabric? Or do these customers actually have to know which chip does what that sounds pretty intricate and potential barrier? What Cisco bringing to the table in this regard?

Richard Licon: No, it’s a good point, Ron, and it kind of looks into the consistency of operations as you kind of stated there, we are seeing customers post pandemic have exponential growth and there’s no longer just a single site. They have multiple data center fabrics for obviously for geo redundancy, for the ability to have that flexibility, to migrate different resources, again, hybrid cloud operations, but they want something that’s turnkey as well. So how could I leverage something? And here’s an example we can talk about with Nexus Dashboard when it’s using a coccid application like our Fabric Controller that has the ability for me as an end user, for a customer, because there’s a spectrum of NetOps folks, as we talked about. There’s some NetOps folks that can drive a CICD pipeline that can do infrastructure as code.

And they understand it’s a journey, not a destination, but there’s also times where something, a customer just needs something that’s out of the box that works something that I could do to automate fabrics multiple sites. But then what about those data center interconnect properties? Can I just simply check a box and then enable encryption over those links? You can do that with NDFC and I can do that consistently across the Nexus platforms, but the Cloud Scale ASICs. So I think those are kind of cool things that you get from the customer.

Maybe they may take for granted because you don’t you’re not understanding which product does what, which chip set does what, it’s there, it’s consistent, it’s uniform. And I know I’m just kind of dating myself there. It’s kind of almost like plug and play. So it’s kind of certain things that you can get from that automation with security without compromise. I think those are the cool things that you want to get.

Daniel Newman: So what does plug and play date you to, does that date you to being like a millennial? I’m trying to think what are we dating ourselves to so if it’s something’s plug and play. Let’s kind of wrap on these bullet points here with one more and then what I want to do for all the listeners out there is I want to give them some of your great advice from all of you and kind of how to, how to carry the torch forward. But a couple of the other areas Ron, that we pointed out in this paper was all about unified management policy. And then of course the pervasive visibility to insights. You mentioned something in your last comment Richard about that was sort of policy driven. The ability to give, to create and enable through policy, but just how important is getting the right tools with the right set of unified management and policy to being able to do this at scale and in a large organization?

Richard Licon: Absolutely important. I think that was the question for me, right Daniel.

Daniel Newman: Oh yeah. Sorry about that. Yeah.

Richard Licon: Yeah, no worries. So I think from when we’re looking at the unified management and policy perspective. Customers, they want to have the ability to allow certain endpoints to communicate or certain members to be blocked. Typically, in the previous generations, it was all about ACLs, Apples. Then if there’s a ACLs based on subnets, based on TCP UDP port numbers, but then we kind of moved up the stack and then just focused on applications. Should my web server be allowed to talk to this DB server in this location? Probably not. Or when it should be, what ports am I going to allow in pinhole open? So I think customers want to have something that’s unified with regards to the capability of managing that from the infrastructure perspective, but also how to drive application centric segmentation.

And then how do I have the ability to look at my policy when it needs to do some type of service insertion, if I need this traffic or this flow to be steered into a firewall, how is that unified? And that’s something that we kind of can see with our Nexus Dashboard, again, plugging that tool, but the ability to show with an ACI fabric, how we can kind of steer traffic to maybe a pan firewall, a checkpoint firewall, a Cisco firewall and being able for the customer to use that as a single paned glass, if you will, to get that visibility, understand the health of that other device, whether it’s an F5 load balancer as well.

And then customers can kind of take that experience that unification, see the policy that’s intact and then also have something with compliance where they want to make sure they can run compliance to make sure if there’s any type of deviation. If these applications, all of a sudden start communicating I’m indicated or alarmed instantaneously. I think those are the kind of things we want to make sure that we’re giving those customers that ease of mind and that understanding that when they configure policy it’s there intact and that they can management. And from a day two ops perspective,

Ron Westfall: And this aligns what we see with our research that is having that unified view across bare metal, virtual machine and container base instances that you’ve pointed out Richard. And I think that’s going to be a difference maker in terms of how they are able to advance their journey, but also in how they evaluate solutions out there. And we’re certainly seeing capabilities such as load balancing and firewalls and database workloads being at the top of the list of this is something that we really need to understand what’s going on. It doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter if it’s on our premises. It doesn’t matter if it’s at a colocation space or if it’s in the public cloud, we have to know what’s going on with that application all the time, like full life cycle management. And so this is definitely something that’s aligning with our perspective.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, you guys definitely hit a lot of things on the head there. And I think for everyone out there, what I always love from these kinds of conversations is, “Hey, let’s take it back to action. Let’s take it back to what people out there that are running IT environments that are trying to think about this.” The fact of the matter is I still think it’s early days. I love hearing about workloads in the cloud, but anybody that’s actually done the numbers realizes that we’ve got so many more workloads to move than we have workloads that are actually there which is crazy considering the multi-billion dollar businesses that we’ve seen hyperscale cloud become.

But that’s just to say how important IT is. Remember though everything runs on a chip and everything from there needs a lot of compute, a lot of powers, power a lot so it’s exciting times for the industry. So let’s think about this thing through what are the calls to action as customers that are looking to invest in cloud networking solutions, what do you recommend for them to be thinking about next, Ron, I’ll let you go first. Cause I let Richard go first quite a few times.

Ron Westfall: Fair enough. And no problem. And yeah. Excellent question. I see, for example, just based on our conversation, the need for having a trusted advisor that can only support the products, for example, that has the portfolio to address all of these different challenges, but also quite simply the service support capabilities because truly is a journey. And this is something that’s going to require being able to work with that partner who can really address a full array of these items that we talked about. And so I think that’s going to be a key takeaway item. And in addition, I think it goes back to the ecosystem aspect that you emphasized Daniel, that you really need a player that can work with a dynamic set of partners.

It’s not just being able to work with partners that are already certified today, but as we know that you’re going to have to onboard new applications, work with developers from different organizations and very much a open ended dynamic fashion. And so you really need to, I think work with an organization that knows how to handle that on a holistic scalable way. And so I think those are recommendations that I can say with full confidence in our conversations talking with all the players out there, both on the enterprise side, the operator side, but also in terms of third party developer side. So these are all important.

Daniel Newman: So Richard, what did he miss?

Richard Licon: No, I think Ron covered all the main talking points from service and support to having the trusted advisors because essentially typically what, what we think that CIOs or different various managers are thinking is how do they build and operate an infrastructure that’s for a distributed enterprise, because that’s what we’re seeing. These teams are now looking for them looking for tools that’s going to help them manage their infrastructure. And obviously during this transformation how do they offer the users, this cloud life experience? And I think that’s what we’re going towards. This evolution, that’s becoming a trend. And this is where I see that we, Cisco are addressing this growth in hybrid cloud networks, providing ITs with a much needed operational tool to configure and manage multi-sites, as we talked about multi-cloud deployments with that single view, and then it allows the IT customers to get that deeper, granular network visibility for troubleshooting, compliance, and then things like boosting storage, there’s ways to boost your storage performance, let’s do it.

And then you can ultimately transition to these new cloud principles, these cloud environments with these operational models. And as you said it Daniel, it’s a journey. And I think this is what we’re trying to do and bring that capability to simplify. I think that’s what customers want. They want to be able to simplify these interconnecting separate sites, whether its different fabrics but support that from a single point of consistent policy and management for that granular level of segmentation. I know that’s a mouthful, there’s a lot of stuff I covered there, but that’s kind of typically what I’m thinking is kind of what we want to kind of tell the leaders out there, what they should be thinking about.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. And in our, the research that we published, we definitely gave a kind of a checklist and you guys hit a lot of them. I was going to see if you guys let me down and left any gaps, but you really didn’t. So I don’t need to fill any backstops on that particular topic. What I will say is there is about a six point checklist that we gave to help IT DMS, CIOs, if you’re leading basically the enterprise scale out of your network or cloud deployments that you probably want to pay attention to. We’ll put that in the show notes. So if you haven’t had a chance to read the paper, check out the link in the show notes, but Richard, Ron, just want to thank you both great conversation.

Really enjoy the opportunity to sit down, talk about this with you, this topic isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s going to be a bigger topic in a year. It’s going to be more important. Those secular trends we started with those challenges will get bigger. And those calls to action are going to be more important that you, whoever you are out there are executing upon all of them. At least most of them. So Richard, Ron, thanks for joining me here today on the Futurum Tech Webcast. We appreciate you. Have a good day.

Richard Licon: Thanks David. Thanks Ron. Thank you. Good day.

Daniel Newman: All right, everybody out there hit that subscribe button. Join us for future episodes. We’ve got great conversations, interviews, thought leaders all across the tech stack that join us here on this Futurum Tech Webcast. We hope that you will be joining us more often, but for now it’s time to say goodbye for Ron, for Richard, for myself. See you all later. Bye now.

About the Authors

Ron is an experienced research expert and analyst, with over 20 years of experience in the digital and IT transformation markets. He is a recognized authority at tracking the evolution of and identifying the key disruptive trends within the service enablement ecosystem, including software and services, infrastructure, 5G/IoT, AI/analytics, security, cloud computing, revenue management, and regulatory issues. Read Full Bio.

Daniel Newman is the Chief Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio