Highlights from Cisco Live U.S. 2016

Cisco Live started in 1989 with just a handful of attendees, and it has been growing significantly over the past 26 years. This year’s Cisco Live U.S. event had 28,000 attendees and was hosted June 10-14 at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas, NV. Cisco Live is the company’s corporate event that pulls together customers and partners to learn about the latest Cisco technologies and products. However, it is more than just a tech conference; it is a social gathering, a party, and a lot of technical learning rolled into one. Here are some of the highlights from this year’s Cisco Live.

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Technical Sessions and Training

At this year’s Cisco Live U.S. there were 1153 technical sessions listed in the session catalog. This poses a problem because there were so many to choose from. For instance, there are well over 30 sessions on IPv6 alone. After you look through the sessions and “star” the topics that are of most interest to you, then the tough part begins. You can only be in one place at a time, so there are tough choices to make when there are the inevitable session schedule overlaps. The key thing to remember is that most of these sessions are recorded and made available on the Cisco Live On-demand Library. You don’t want to miss any sessions, but you can always catch up on the ones that slipped the schedule.

One of the highlights in recent years has been the Cisco DevNet Zone. This is a large area where the focus is on software development and how it is transforming the traditional hardware-based networking industry. This area had training and demonstrations that covered the broad spectrum of Internet of Things (IoT), network management, microservices architectures and coding. There were hands-on labs, special DevNet theater training classes, and workshops. There was even a Hackathon on Saturday and Sunday where some of GTRI’s own consultants participated and demonstrated their cloud collaboration creativity.

Cisco Live also had an entire day dedicated to cloud architectures and solutions. Cloud Day (GENCLD-1001) was on Monday. This was a full day curriculum of sessions on cloud services, containers, OpenStack, and software development.

Cisco also offered a whole set of Walk-In Self-Paced Lab sessions. All you had to do was free up some time on your busy schedule and sit down and go through one of these virtual labs, which tested your readiness for a certification or for learning how to deploy a new Cisco technology.

There was also an Executive Symposium that covered the business implications of all the technology sessions. This would have been a good thing to suggest to your boss. While he or she was over at the MGM Grand, you could break away and go to the technical session that would arm you with the practical know-how to get that new wiz-bang thing deployed correctly next week.

New Cisco Technology

Cisco announces and releases new products every year at Cisco Live and this year was no exception. The major themes of this year’s Cisco Live were digital transformation, business outcomes, analytics, automation, agility, and security. Of course, the typical buzzword bingo favorites – cloud, Big Data, and IoT – were well represented.

StealthWatch Learning Network was one of the interesting security solutions that was announced during the Chuck Robbins keynote. The StealthWatch is a feature that will be enabled by upgraded Cisco IOS versions for the branch router. It combines the power of a cloud-based analytics engine and distributed machine learning to improve security protection for the enterprise. (GTRI has already incorporated StealthWatch into its Insider Threat Security Solution.)

Another new offering, Cisco’s Tetration Analytics, is a platform to gain visibility into the data that traverses your data center. Tetration leverages real-time analytics that stream off the Nexus 92160YC-X and Nexus 9300-EX switches. This telemetry data then is absorbed by the Tetration platform, and the analytics and deep insights are provided with data visualization dashboards. Under the hood of the Tetration platform is a Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) with Apache Spark, Kafka, Druid, and other proprietary software. Even though Tetration is a newly-announced platform, there were a variety of technical sessions on the topic (ITMGEN-4313, PSOACI-2100, BRKACI-2060, BRKDCT-1890, LABACI-3020, BRKDCN-2040, CISSOL-1073).

Cisco announced its Digital Network Architecture (DNA) back in March as a set of solutions that aid customers in their journey toward a digital business. DNA is a blueprint for building cloud services on virtualized network infrastructure with automation and analytics. Cisco DNA includes CMX Cloud to help organizations understand customer experiences and location services. DNA includes Cisco APIC-EM for greater automation of network infrastructure. Enterprise NFV is the portion of the DNA solution that helps automate the use of virtual network functions like firewalling and load balancing. DNA also integrates security into the equation to protect the applications and business critical infrastructure and sensitive data.

At Cisco Live, Cisco announced its DNA Readiness Model, a tool that helps assess where customers are on their journey to a more automated IT infrastructure. Cisco also offers a DevNet DNA Developer Center to help integrate third-party solutions and customize the management, automation, and analytics of customers’ infrastructure. At Cisco Live, there were numerous technical sessions on DNA (TECCRS-2700, PSONMS-2004, PSOCRS-1008, BRKNMS-1036, DEVNET-1036, DEVNET-1025, INTGEN-1002, TECCRS-2700, BRKCRS-2700, and BRKCRS-3300.  Other technical sessions on Enterprise NFV were (TECCRS-3006, DEVNET-2058, BRKARC-2112, PSOSPG-2002, BRKCRS-3447).

Cisco also made several announcements of expansions to its Internet of Everything (IoE) portfolio. The DevNet labs root at Cisco Live was even larger than previous years. Earlier this year, Cisco announced its acquisition of SaaS provider Jasper, an IoT analysis service. Cisco has also announced a partnership with IBM Watson for greater IoT analysis. During the Monday keynote they introduced a couple of people from “Work With Watson.” There were a few technical sessions on this topic: PCSTHT-1032 and PCSSOL-1051.

Cisco recently announced its CloudLock acquisition. If you are not familiar with CloudLock, it is a Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) vendor. A CASB solution provides valuable insights to an organization about how their employees are accessing cloud services. CASB solutions provide for control and compliance and can integrate with secure web gateways and web proxy functionality as well as provide Data Loss Prevention (DLP). CloudLock’s Adaptive Security Platform pricing starts at just a few dollars per users per month. There weren’t any technical sessions on CloudLock, the acquisition announcement was too recent; however, ironically, there was a tech session on Skyhigh’s CASB (PCSVIL-2010).

World of Solutions

Cisco Live has one of the largest vendor expos of any conference. The expo floor was so vast it reminded me of the government warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant, that Indiana Jones found, is now stored.

There are always many title sponsors who have massive installations and throngs of people all wearing the same color shirts.  Other smaller vendors can sometimes be more interesting and offer some innovative approaches. Following are a few companies, listed in alphabetical order, that were represented at the World of Solutions that I found interesting.

Apstra is a relatively new company that aims to improve network automation and orchestration. The Apstra’s Operating System (AOS) is a vendor-agnostic layer of abstraction that helps organizations manage their entire data center network as a whole system rather than individually configuring each network device as they have done for years.

Avi Networks provides application scalability and performance assurance through a virtualized appliance. The company’s Avi Vantage Platform operates like a virtual load balancer for applications. It can run on bare metal x86 servers, virtual machines, containers, or in a cloud. Avi Networks can easily integrate with Cisco’s ACI data center fabric.

Complete Communications is a service company that helps customers manage their communication services and optimize their WAN services as they migrate to a hybrid WAN infrastructure. Complete Communications provides a Cisco IWAN as a Service (IWANaaS) that helps companies provide better bandwidth management for their applications, reducing WAN costs and improving application response times for branch and remote-site end-users.

Mist was one of the new wireless vendors that many discovered at the World of Solutions. Mist’s wireless solution is a cloud-based microservices architecture wireless platform that is focused on the shift in the mobility market toward low powered wireless. Mist is starting to catch the attention of many in the industry because of how the company combines 802.11AC Wave 2 radios with Bluetooth Low Energy in its application platforms. Mist’s solution also supports virtual Bluetooth Low Energy (vBLE), which now supports IPv6 over Bluetooth LE (RFC 7668). Mist’s solution also provides Predictive Analytics and Correlation (PACE) that adds valuable management insights to their solution.

Morpheus Data has been around for about a year as a provider of a platform that allows for applications to be easily provisioned and managed on physical servers, virtualized servers, or cloud services. Morpheus is the glue that allows for application portability and scalability. Morpheus works with an increasingly large array of server platforms and cloud services. Morpheus also works with the most popular application platforms.

Near is a company that provides location-based real-time information so companies can perform tracking and analysis, and discover insights from wireless telemetry. AllSpark is the company’s solution for managing populations and Converge is its solution for performing path analysis. Near isn’t exactly a new company as it has a large set of brand name companies using its products.

Nuviso Networks has products that perform network management and also perform SDN configuration orchestration. The Nuviso Network Federation Suite (NNFS) combines four different functions (NSO, NMO, SCO, and NCO) to build out virtual networks across physical and cloud infrastructure.

Social Events

One of the many reasons that most people like to attend Cisco Live is it’s a great way to reconnect with colleagues from around the world. Even though the conference has tens of thousands of people, you inevitably run into friends and colleagues from years gone by. The hospitality Cisco and the other vendors provide is overwhelming and you are never more than a few feet from a frosty beverage.

On Tuesday night, there were many parties after the World of Solutions closed. One great party was the CCIE party at the Hard Rock Hotel pool. The food was amazing and it instantly added at least ten IQ points talking with all the smart individuals there.

One of the other great things that Cisco did was create the Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (CEWN). At this year’s Cisco Live U.S., there were many different CEWN events, panels, DevNet sessions, and breakouts about empowering women and showcasing how valuable women are in our industry. In fact, this event was so popular that it sold out weeks beforehand.

Cisco’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) division has been hard at work performing philanthropic projects. This year’s Cisco Live coordinated efforts of conference attendees to help assemble hygiene kits for the Clean the World campaign. Attendees could also help assemble meal kits in support of Stop Hunger Now.

Cisco Live always throws the best parties and the Customer Appreciation Event (CAE) has been the pinnacle. This year’s concert was by Maroon 5 and Elle King at the newly built T-Mobile Arena. This venue offered a great visual experience that leveraged the Cisco StadiumVision content distribution solution. The bands played amazingly well for a large audience of Cisco Live attendees in blinking cowboy hats.

Wireless Internet Access at Cisco Live

Every year, Cisco Live’s conference staff has the daunting task of building a network that is capable of handling tens of thousands of the world’s network engineers. They are a demanding population of power users who would notice if there were connectivity problems. For the past few years, Cisco has provided IPv4 and IPv6 connectivity using their own high-performance 8500 series Wireless LAN Controllers (WLCs). Upstream dual-protocol Internet connectivity was provided by CenturyLink.

The Cisco Live event team puts together a Network Operations Center (NOC) to keep the connectivity running smooth. Cisco Live has provided dual-protocol Internet connectivity to its conference attendees for several years now. Cisco has also been working with Mobilitie to help them with the construction of the wireless network. Mobilitie has assisted with the construction of the network in the MGM Grand Hotel and the other M-Life properties that many conference attendees stayed at during the week.

New Cisco Press Books

Cisco Press often has a big effort to try to coincide the publication of new books with Cisco Live U.S., however, often the book writing process doesn’t lend itself to arbitrary timelines. There is always a huge Cisco Live bookstore at Cisco Live where you can look through the latest books and buy something to read on the flight home. If you bought a new book at Cisco Live, or hauled your book with you to Cisco Live, you could have meet the author and got it signed by the author at one of the many book signing events throughout the week.

Some of the newest books include Wendell Odom’s updated “CCNA Routing and Switching 200-125 Official Cert Guide.” Wendell also recently published his updated “CCENT/CCNA ICND1 100-105 Official Cert Guide.”

Kevin Wallace, like Wendell Odom, has also written many Cisco Press certification guides and had several being released just before Cisco Live.

One book that I bought that I am looking forward to reading is “Cisco Next-Generation Security Solutions: All-in-one Cisco ASA Firepower Services, NGIPS, and AMP” by Omar Santos, Panos Kampanakis, and Aaron Woland. Accompanying this book is the LiveLessons.

Another book that looks interesting is “Intercloud: Solving Interoperability and Communication in a Cloud of Clouds” by Jazib Frahim, Venkata Josyula, Monique Morrow, and Ken Owens.

Another new book is “Virtual Routing in the Cloud” by Arvind Durai, Stephen Lynn, and Amit Srivastava.

My friend Anthony Bruno, along with Steve Jordan, just released their updated “CCDA 200-310 Official Cert Guide, 5th Edition.” So many books, so little time.

Summary

This was my ninth Cisco Live (Networkers).  I have been to 1999 (Vancouver), 2000 (Las Vegas), 2001 (Chicago), 2009 (Las Vegas), 2011 (Las Vegas), 2012 (San Diego), 2014 (San Francisco), 2015 (San Diego), and 2016 (Las Vegas). Every year I have been increasingly impressed with Cisco as a company and I have learned a lot each year I have attended. It has been a fun event and a way to reconnect with peers.

This year I was honored to be invited to present at Cisco Live. Not many people outside of Cisco are invited to speak, but I presented a portion of the Sunday session “TECRST-2166 – An Immersive Journey into IPv6” techtorial on IPv6 Security (my favorite topic).

This was the best Cisco Live yet. If you can’t wait until next year for Cisco Live U.S., you can attend one of the other international Cisco Live events coming up. Next on the calendar is Cisco Live Cancun in November. Next year, Cisco Live Europe will be in Berlin Germany and a few months later in Melbourne Australia. Then, before you know it, it will be time for Cisco Live U.S. 2017.  We can’t hardly wait.