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Festivus, Meraki and the Platform Effect

Many years ago, in an effort to ensure Christmas morning was filled with smiles and laughter, Frank Costanza walked into a shop to buy a doll for his son.

Although celebratory decorations adorned the walls and the air was filled with the soothing sounds of Christmas carols, parents battled it out alone against the odds, struggling through crowded isles in search of the perfect gift for their kids.

Finding what he was searching for, Frank reached for the last doll on the shelf – but so did another man…

…and as he rained down blows upon his fellow shopper, Frank realised there had to be a better way.

Like Frank, all too often we battle alone against the odds. Firmware upgrades, ad hoc patches, custom scripts, and discrete management tools keep us locked in a perpetual battle with the network technology that we rely upon to support us. And although we’re able to exchange tips and tricks with colleagues, the environment has been ours to own and ours to manage, alone.

There has to be a better way.

With this in mind, the Cisco Meraki team set out over a decade ago to alleviate network engineers of these mundane administrative tasks. By creating a Cloud-based platform, which performed all the routine management of network devices, Meraki massively simplified network operations overnight.

As time went on, Meraki expanded the platform support from wireless access points to switches, routers, firewalls, unified communications systems, and most recently, to physical surveillance cameras. While these devices continue impress even the most skeptical amongst us, the true strength of the products comes from their Platform Effect.

Platform Effect refers to the significant advantage gained by software developers through the centralisation of core services into a single (Cloud) platform, which are then used to streamline both the development and deployment of new products.

The advantages gained through the Platform Effect generally manifest themselves in two distinct ways.

  1. New products (physical or virtual) have access to the vast array of existing services provided by the platform which they connect to, and
  2. As the platform is enhanced with new services, all products connected to the platform gain immediate access to the new services.

When Meraki rolled out its latest video surveillance equipment, the existing platform already provided automated firmware upgrades, configuration management, network authentication, logging, reporting and basic analytics.

Network administrators used the same web interface to control cameras they had already been using for their access points, switches, and firewalls, etc. – it was a pain-free expansion of their product portfolio by leveraging the existing platform.

The same Platform Effect that underpinned Meraki’s growth now drives Cisco Spark and Cisco’s entire Digital Network Architecture (DNA) strategy.

The Platform Effect has fundamentally changed networks:

  • Upgrades are no longer manual
  • Configurations are no longer individually managed
  • Troubleshooting is no longer done per device
  • Security controls are no longer device specific

The days of complex, command-line driven configurations are over; and although the administrative tasks that once consumed network engineers’ days are fast evaporating, the need for deep technical knowledge has never been more important.

As automation and orchestration policies link network, security, identity, infrastructure services, and business applications, network engineers need to expand their knowledge and understand more than ever how the network will interact with critical business applications.

Cisco Meraki, Cisco Spark, and Cisco DNA all integrate with business applications through APIs…and it’s not going to end there.

Tomorrow’s network engineers need to invest in themselves today.

With Python quickly emerging as the language of choice for network programmability for automation and orchestration, it’s time to embrace the better way.

Watch some Python VODs, fire-up Cisco dCloud, get your hands dirty, and go realise the promise of Festivus!

Tags: Cisco, Cisco Meraki

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