Cisco Live: ThousandEyes on the prize in digital experience age

As it closed out its annual gathering of customers, partners and developers, networking and IT giant Cisco emphasised what it said would be a market-defining moment for the company and a bedrock of providing the resilience and reliability of networks for businesses as they work in the era of Digital Experience Assurance.

Earlier at the event in Las Vegas, Cisco said that by using telemetry data and artificial intelligence (AI)-native technology, customers can now achieve digital resilience and transition from reactive to proactive operations by assuring user digital experience across domains for both owned and unowned environments.

To achieve its aims, it announced the launch of ThousandEyes Digital Experience Assurance to deliver AI-native assurance capabilities across Cisco Networking, including AI radio resource management (RRM), capacity planning for SD-WAN solutions, and device profiling with AI-based signatures for Cisco Identity Services Engine.

As the company staked out its ground in observability, Tom Casey, senior vice-president and general manager for products and technology at Splunk, recently acquired by Cisco, stressed that observability needed to cover multiple dimensions, across owned and unowned networks, running traditional and modern appliances and over on-premise equipment, multicloud and hybrid domains.

He added that Splunk would be focused on doing two things simultaneously: integrating products to leverage the skills in the Cisco and Splunk community; and enabling people to work together better.

“We’re going to reach across the breadth of traditional and cloud-native applications, and in particular, those multicloud deployments that exist because the real world is a crazy, mixed up, heterogeneous place. We’re going to continue to need to [reach] customers where they are and incorporate the old with the new,” he said.

“On the integration front, we’re going to focus on improving the user experience. [The aim is to] get more people engaged and let them manage and operate, hopefully in an effective way. Then we’re going to take secondary paths and work on deepening the connection into the network more consistently with ThousandEyes … the key thing is navigability across [the network] because you don’t know who’s going to notice [a network] incident and … how many teams you’re going to [need to work] simultaneously. The idea that you can converge your ITOps or security, your SRE, at the same point on shared context is critically important.”

Responsible for the vision and direction of the division since April 2024, Joe Vaccaro, ThousandEyes general manager and vice-president, told Computer Weekly that from the beginnings of the company 14 years ago, almost 10 years before becoming part of the Cisco fold, the firm had the foresight to understand that the internet was going to fundamentally change connectivity. Cloud infrastructure hadn’t even really started, key cloud services and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications were still in their infancy.

Fast forward to the present, with cloud and SaaS now central to how businesses operate, in the new world of hybrid working more and more of the digital experiences firms are facing are beyond the control of the IT organisation. Digital experiences now power everything that firms do, and ensuring these are resilient and can be assured explains the mission of ThousandEyes, noted Vaccaro, one that is more than just network monitoring.

“The network in the connectivity is foundational, but other important parts of that digital supply chain all have to work together to deliver on a digital experience. That’s why ThousandEyes is much more than just networking. You need to understand the digital experience from understanding the device,” he said.

“You need to understand it in terms of the DNS and set of surfaces. You also need to understand how configuration is going into play a role and how digital experiences can be delivered – and unfortunately also disrupted. We can see a drop in digital experience that many times is human caused, meaning somebody made a configuration [error], potentially to improve the security posture, that’s going to have a ripple effect in the overall digital experience,” added Vaccaro.

Putting the ThousandEyes mission and vision into perspective in the digital experience age, Vaccaro said there were three core pillars: “We want to be able to empower our customers to see everything across that complex digital supply chain, the global area network. We want them to be able to process and understand the data and turn that data into intelligence so that they very quickly see and understand how the digital experience differs across the variety of different places where it’s being measured so they can focus on where they need to be able to diagnose and ultimately remediate the problem. And the third is to turn that into intelligence and actions, meaning they need to provide a set of closed loop operations. Because if you know you have a problem, but you’re not able to address that problem, then you haven’t solved it [and delivered] on the outcome. Do you feel empowered to be resilient to all of your digital experiences?”

Indeed, Vaccaro regards the notion of digital resilience as the ultimate outcome. It means that equipped with the appropriate tools and technology, businesses can now see outages that traditionally might have taken days or weeks taken down to minutes. Moreover, they are able to look at their connectivity infrastructure and find ways to proactively address problems before they impact their users.

The work of American professional wrestling promoter World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) was offered as a real-life example of these principles in action. A global business, its digital experiences – in particular streaming video transmission to services such as Peacock, and from next year Netflix – are delivered 24/7 and any disruption to that can cost millions of dollars instantly. Plus, brand damage. That means the company has to look at its complex digital supply chain between events.

At Cisco Live, WWE director of broadcast IT, Ralph Riley explained that this chain begins with a TV production studio in Stamford, Connecticut, in the US, where it has its corporate office, and then it also has outside broadcast trucks that transmit video from around the world. Keeping things up and running is simply fundamental, he said.

“We are an operation that really never stops. In order for us to be as resilient as possible, we need to make sure that [in] our TV studio, our internet service providers and our connections through them are [operating] at top-notch bandwidth speeds at all times. Well, of course things aren’t always like that in a real professional world. I think more than ever, to be resilient in technology and an infrastructure that’s not up all the time is not easy,” said Riley.

“And when you think about where we were years ago with antiquated infrastructure, antiquated technology, you were kind of just placing all your bets in one area. But now with Cisco technology, especially with ThousandEyes, it has been a blessing for us to be able to reduce the time it takes to find issues and be proactively alerted to them,” he added.

“We have a Cisco Nexus environment in our TV studio and we also have access points on the road. But for us right now, in terms of the road infrastructure popping up all the time, ThousandEyes allows us to see that point-to-point between our agents on the road and our agents in the TV production studio. And again, before we were getting calls from our remote engineer saying, ‘Hey, something’s wrong, something’s down, what’s going on?’ And then you know, we’re scratching our heads. We didn’t have visibility into that infrastructure, but now, because of ThousandEyes agents, [we do]. We’re trying to run dashboards with ThousandEyes with a shared dashboard between all of our teams… We can see what’s important to us … and the road team can see what’s important to them. So, by creating those dashboards, we’re able to utilise a proactive point of entry for anyone to monitor and that’s been a game-changer.”

For Vaccaro, WWE exemplifies the vision of moving beyond monitoring and towards digital experience assurance. “To become resilient, you need to first have that full visibility. Our visibility is vendor agnostic, and that continues to be important because the internet is the world’s largest network of networks, and it’s made up of every vendor in the world, so our visibility needs to be agnostic and open,” he said.

“You need to be resilient to understand the digital experiences that power our communities and schools. A hospital can’t deliver patient care without its network. A grocery store can’t enable people to get the food they need without its network and digital experiences.”

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