Ahead of Cisco Systems’ big Wi-Fi 6 launch this week, I had the opportunity to attend its annual developer conference, DevNet Create. At the conference, the networking giant hinted at the power of the next generation wireless technology as well as enhancements to its developer program. I’d like to share my insights on the recent Cisco product announcements, the DevNet conference itself, and a revealing conversation with a Cisco customer that you’re probably familiar with.
No more alphabet soup with Wi-Fi 6
First announced by the Wi-Fi Alliance in late 2018, Wi-Fi 6 is a new nomenclature designed to simplify the understanding of wireless networking compatibility. Based on the underlying 802.11ax standard, Wi-Fi 6 brings a host of new advantages, including faster speeds, a nearly 4x improvement in device coverage and power management, and lower latency. Cisco announced today a new set of Wi-Fi 6 access points, Catalyst 9600 series campus switches, and a new ecosystem initiative. On a high level, I applaud Cisco in its effort to integrate Meraki. Historically, Cisco and Meraki executed its refresh efforts separately—this announcement signals a tighter alignment. Cisco offers Wi-Fi 6 support in both its Cisco Catalyst 9100 and Meraki MR series of access points, as well as BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), Zigbee, and Thread for IoT and location-based services support. This dual brand path may seem redundant to some, but in my mind, it provides deployment flexibility. Historically, Meraki lent itself well to more straightforward network topologies with user simplification in mind. That’s a critical consideration for organizations both big and small that have lighter IT staffs or outsource their network operations. Cisco Catalyst, on the other hand, is ideally suited for more complex network environments. Its accompanying DNA Center application provides capabilities such as automation, rich analytics, assurance, and security, all from a single management console. The Catalyst 9600 switches announced alongside the new Wi-Fi 6 devices further extend Cisco’s depth in campus switching, improving resiliency, scalability, and programmability.
How does the arrival of 5G impact Wi-Fi 6? There’s been recent debate (mainly driven by mobile operators) over the long-term viability of Wi-Fi as 5G deploys. I’m of the mindset that a co-existence is the most probable scenario. I’ve written about the benefits of Wi-Fi and 5G in the past, and if interested you can find that article here. That being said, Wi-Fi does have its shortcomings, in terms of ease of roaming and potential hand-off challenges between LTE and future 5G networks. Cisco announced this week that it is leading a consortium to address these very issues, which it has branded OpenRoaming. This group of identity and access providers are working towards the goal of delivering a seamless onboarding and roaming experience as users move between networks. If Cisco can help bring companies like Boingo, Samsung, GlobalReach Technology and others together, it will be a huge accomplishment. I’m looking forward to monitoring OpenRoaming’s progress.
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Carnival Cruise Line’s vision for the future of connectivity
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job as an analyst is the opportunity to speak with iconic companies and hear firsthand about their respective visions. One of Cisco’s customers is Carnival Cruise Lines. Carnival hopes to enhance the cruise passenger experience by leveraging the connectivity improvements the new Cisco products promise to deliver. During DevNet Create, I had the opportunity to speak with Reza Rasoulian, Vice President of Global Connectivity for Carnival Cruise Line. With nine cruise brands, ranging from fun to budget to ultra-luxury, over 12 million guests annually cruise with Carnival. One might think that these passengers would want to unplug, but actually, quite the opposite. Carnival’s statistics show steady demand for Wi-Fi over the years. No doubt this is driven by a desire to share cruise experiences on social media and take better advantage of Carnival services. Delivering reliable wireless connectivity on the ocean is no easy task; a cruise ship has to deal with satellite backhaul latency as well as dense construction materials that kill Wi-Fi propagation. To help here, Carnival is implementing some of Cisco DNA Center’s analytics capabilities. This will help manage peak traffic in highly visited areas (poolside, restaurants, etc.) to deliver higher quality connectivity. Wi-Fi 6 is also a major consideration as Carnival refreshes its onboard wireless infrastructure throughout its fleet.
Today, Cisco infrastructure helps power a host of guest services through Carnival’s HUB onboard app, allowing passengers to check their folio, chat, book excursions, and even order pizza to their cabins! Future services that take advantage of Wi-Fi 6 may also include luggage management and child tracking. Mr. Rasoulian’s longer-term vision involves utilizing Cisco technology for applications such as ship operations, asset management, IoT sensoring for preventative maintenance, and Wi-Fi-powered AR for operational troubleshooting.
Developers that truly drive innovation
DevNet Create 2019 marked the fourth Cisco developer event in the last five years. Presently, the community boasts a staggering ~600,000 developers and continues to grow by leaps and bounds. I credit the growth to leader Susie Wee, with her infectious personality and impassioned team members. Susie’s laugh is unmistakable, and I heard it often over the two-day event. I’ve attended other user conferences, but DevNet Create strikes that optimal balance of fun, community, and the real-time coding “hackathons” that have gained popularity in recent times. One of the conference highlights was an opportunity to speak with several developers that were given awards for their contributions to the DevNet community. During our session, I noticed two common themes. One is that DevNet is a key skill-up tool for both network administrators wanting to learn software development skills and new graduates completing college degrees in computer science. This extends not only to Cisco partners but also its customer base. Secondly, DevNet does the heavy lifting in organizing and compiling resources so that developers have more time to truly innovate. This latter point is powerful. If you’re interested in reading more about DevNet, you can find a past article I’ve written on the organization here. It’s worth noting that in addition to Cisco’s product announcements this week, DevNet also announced a new wireless development center aimed at accelerating innovation based on the new Wi-Fi 6 standard for both Cisco and Meraki branded solutions.
Since Chuck Robbins became CEO in July 2015, I’ve noted a dramatic shift in both Cisco’s overall vision and product offerings. Cisco’s “vendor lock-in” mentality is a thing of the past, but the company still continues to deliver beautiful hardware with a focus on cloudification for scalability. Mr. Robbins is on record stating that the Cloud is the future of its business. I agree but would add that the future is also rooted in leveraging software for agility, digital transformation, application delivery, and disruption. DevNet plays an integral part in propelling Cisco forward towards an ever-increasing API-centric world. Customers such as Carnival Cruise Lines are strong proof points to the success of Cisco’s strategy.
Date: April 01, 2019