Cisco Live 2017, the 28th annual event, wrapped up Thursday of last week. I believe it marked a pivotal moment for Cisco, and by extension, any company that uses networks – read “EVERYONE.” Although the big theme was Cisco’s “The Network. Intuitive.” message, I think the most impactful shift for engineers around the world is the affirmation of Cisco’s shift toward programmability. While Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins may have been joking about DevNet owing him $20 every time he mentioned their name, he was very serious about the growing importance of developers in the future of Cisco as a combined software and hardware organization. One of the most telling things I heard Chuck say was a commendation of Apple CEO, Tim Cook. He said, “You’ve always embraced the developer community – we’re now opening up a lot of our portfolio, in fact, our future strategy is everything about our portfolio will be programmable in the future.” As I mentioned in my interview before the closing keynote with Cisco VP and Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Officer Shari Slate, now is the time to get intimate with Cisco DevNet.
Now if you haven’t spent much time with DevNet, don’t panic just yet. Cisco is going to continue to manufacture hardware long into the future, and your current knowledge is still valuable today. To quote Chuck again, “the role the network plays, despite the fact that it may be taken for granted sometimes, has increased.” The parts that are new are that “we have to do this AT SCALE like has never been done before”, “we have to change the degree of complexity, remove this complexity that was necessary when we kept adding new features to move FASTER than we ever have before”, and “we have to apply SECURITY the moment they [frames] hit the wire.” Chuck believes that in 2020 there will be as many as 1 million new connections every hour and that APIs, and by extension DevNet, will be the tool chest we utilize to operate at such a large scale.
This new world of programmability isn’t necessarily going to mean every engineering task is going to require writing code. Take, for instance, the StealthWatch quarantine workflow demonstrated by TK Keanini during the Technology Vision Keynote. During that example, metadata was sent from the new Catalyst 9k switching to StealthWatch, where TK clicked a quarantine button, that sent a request to DNA Center, that used underlying APIC-EM to reconfigure the Catalyst 9k and implement the quarantine. There was no coding done in the example, but this capability utilized the programmable interfaces of each component to implement the desired action. Understanding that other applications can also leverage those same interfaces and that the individual components expose large amounts of functionality via their APIs are critical.
Now that you know everything produced by Cisco will be programmable moving forward, how do you start swimming in the right direction? Simple, go log in to DevNet at developer.cisco.com. There you will find a plethora of content and resources to help you grow your new skillset. You will find Learning Labs that are guided sets of modules that teach to a specific subject. Some of these learning labs are geared toward specific Cisco technology stacks, while others are meant to introduce the novice to coding 101 (hello world level simple). As you evolve over time and want a more flexible environment you can reserve time on a sandbox environment where you’ll be able to code against real kit tucked away in a Cisco data center. If you find yourself in need of support you can take advantage of the free DevNet support community resources available in Cisco Spark, or forums, or pay for advanced support that is billed by the ticket.
What does this all mean to you? It means you should get started by taking advantage of the training DevNet has to offer.
Doing things at scale successfully means doing them programmatically and automatically. Try pulling some configuration data or making config changes using YANG and NETCONF/RESTCONF with the new IOS-XE Denali in a DevNet sandbox. Learn about and encourage your enterprise application developers to code their Apple apps to take advantage of WiFi Fastlane capabilities so that they perform better in large scale, crowded RF environments. Doing things faster means taking human response and cycle times out of the equation. That could mean leveraging the same APIs and tools, or it could mean going up a layer and ‘programming’ your network policy in DNA Center to automate, simplify and speed up provisioning. Implementing pervasive security means taking it all a step further and tying in StealthWatch, ISE, Umbrella, and programming those into not only your policy.
In case you didn’t notice, quite a few of the activities I described aren’t the kind of ‘programming’ that requires coding. Programming and coding are different, and both are different still from development. But no matter which way you frame it, your world is changing. I encourage you to get out there and start learning now with the instrument of your salvation, DevNet!