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Cisco, NASA, and the Software-Defined Space Race

In 1961, the world was at fever pitch as the US, Russia and Europe all battled it out for space supremacy.

Astronauts prepared to leave earth for the first time, while new rocket designs were rigorously prototyped and tested.

However, sitting behind the astronauts, designers, engineers, and everyone else…were the computers.

Computers weren’t the computers we have today. “Computers” was the job title given to the men and women that worked the numbers. The painstaking calculations for longitude, latitude, thrust, heat dissipation, wind resistance, etc. Computers were the human beings responsible for the math.

But lives were at stake, calculations were becoming more complex, and work needed to be checked and re-checked. NASA knew the (human) computers couldn’t deliver the speed, agility or timeliness that NASA demanded.

Let me repeat that…NASA knew that the ever-increasing complexity of work requirements meant that humans would not be able to deliver the speed, agility or accuracy that NASA needed to be successful.

Enter the IBM 7094-11 – a mechanical computer that could do the work of its human counterparts almost instantaneously.

IBM mechanical computer

Accepting that that change is inevitable, Dorothy Vaughan (team leader for the computers) convinced her team that embracing mechanical computers and learning to program (Fortran) was the future.

Studying together, investing in themselves, and developing the new skill set meant that when the IBM 7094-11 computers went live, Dorothy’s team were best skilled to run the most critical function within NASA – the computers – and went on to play a key role in putting Colonel John Glenn into space. The rest is history.

Some could argue her team were lucky…right place, right time – but luck is where preparation meets opportunity.

Like NASA, Cisco recognised that the manual complexities of today must be addressed to support the business of tomorrow.

Cisco announced Software Defined Access (SDA), a fundamental shift in hardware, software, and automation services to deliver on the promise of software-defined networking…speed, agility, accuracy, and the ability to link business applications, processes and policies to network operations.

Intrinsically defined by automation, Cisco SDA presents an immediate opportunity to unlock years of technology enhancements, but without the traditional effort associated with network design, deployment and operational support.

From Cisco Meraki, to ACI, DNA Center (previously known as APIC-EM), and the Python programming language…these are the IBM 7094-11s of our future.

As organisations struggle to deal with the real-world challenge of digital transformation, today’s engineers have a choice to make; whether to stand idly by, watching helplessly as automation renders them redundant, or whether to lean in…keep learning, keep growing, and choose to connect their skills and experience with business applications and broader business issues.

Starting simply requires that you take a small step and look around – there has never been more supporting material available, ever. From dCloud to DevNet and Pluralsight, the key to the future is right in front of you.

All you have to do is open your web browser.

Tags: Cisco, Software-defined Networking (SD-WAN)

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