Saturday, 31 August 2019

Drive Your Cloud Services Portfolio with Webex and the Jobs to be Done Framework

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How service providers (SPs) can use the Jobs to be Done (JTBD) framework to better engage with their customers and achieve superior results. In this post, we look at how JTBDs are applied for the Cisco Webex suite. We look at key elements of JTBD construction such as the buyer and purchase dynamics.  We then learn how you can extend Webex JTBDs to differentiate and target your own cloud services offer.

Jobs to be Done Overview


As we learned in Part 1, the JTBD framework is especially powerful when combined with advanced digital engagement methods and larger go-to-market transformation initiatives. In go-to-market transformations, SPs apply digital capabilities to better orchestrate customer interactions across digital and non-digital channels through the end-to-end customer lifecycle.

JTBDs are woven into customer touch points and achieve maximum impact where SPs deliver the right message and experience, to the right persona, at the right time.

Using this approach is especially important for cloud services where customer experience is king, and churn is your biggest enemy. Forbes recently reported that 89% of businesses now compete primarily on the basis of customer experience, up from 36% in 2010.

JTBDs take considerable effort to develop. Building these out requires deep customer engagement, rounds of working with product UI/UX, testing via focus groups, and then verifying via A/B testing and analytics. Finally, you bring your JTBD to life through creative teams and designers.

Apply Jobs to be Done for Webex


To give you some examples of this, we will walk through JTBD highlights for Webex. Note that these Webex JTBDs are new. Webex now incorporates a broader set of capabilities, delivering not only meetings, but Webex Teams, Webex Cloud Calling, and Webex Conferencing Devices. These can be packaged and delivered alongside Cisco handsets, headsets, and other enabling hardware. This powerful suite enables you to target more important jobs for your customers. In addition, the expanded Webex suite can be delivered via the Cisco cloud, offering open APIs to third-party applications and better support for customer cloud migration strategies.

One of the first and most important elements of JTBDs is the focus on the buyer. For Webex, there continues a focus on seamless user experience and industry-leading benefits for IT leadership.  With an expanded set of capabilities, Webex becomes even more important for the IT buyer, firm leadership, procurement activities, and businesses operations.

We see two ways that you can apply JTBDs as you engage IT leadership in their purchase process:

1. Buying groups: While IT may lead the procurement process, the decision itself is more likely done in a group setting with multiple interests or JTBDs represented. Sirius Decisions recently reported that 59% of B2B decision-making is now made by “buying groups.” This dynamic suggests a benefit in identifying multiple JTBDs and how they can appeal across different key purchase influencers or personas in these buying groups.

2. Consumption dynamics: Although Webex is typically purchased by an IT Director, CIO or business owner, the success of the implementation depends on user adoption and consumption. Buyers need to reflect the interests of the firm’s target “end users,” e.g., the broader base of employees who need communications and collaboration tools. Not to be too clever here, but one of the “jobs” of the buyer (and buyer group) is to represent the “jobs” of their end-users.

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Figure 1:  How JTBDs are “rolled up” to the CIO for communications solutions from 1) C-suite buyer groups and 2) end-user consumers

To address the above purchase dynamics, our Webex JTBDs focus on the IT leader but include the context of other key stakeholders. By taking related C-suite issues into account, Webex JTBDs give you an ability to target the majority of the C-suite as your potential buying group. We also worked in key end-user issues and common challenges related to mobility, device UX, and inter-generational demands.

Webex Jobs to be Done Summaries


In sum, we identified three starter Webex JTBDs and have presented them in the tables below.  These tables include the target C-suite personas, the C-level purchase priorities, the JTBD classic statement format, and a small amount of supporting third-party data:

JTBD 1
Workplace Transformation to Serve Agile Staff
Targets CEO, CIO, COO
Priorities CEO, CIO, COO
JTBD
statement
- Employee engagement
- Retain top talent
- Productivity & execution
JTBD
statement
“Agile workers are the future of our business but struggle with an antiquated and inconsistent communications experience. Webex offers ease-of-use, device flexibility, and analytics to transform the workplace and create a connected business environment. This helps us retain top talent and lets agile workers not only engage in the business but achieve greater productivity and execute against their targets.”

JTBD 1 key insight: Webex is not about meetings or calling but about managing your workforce, employee retention, getting the most from your talent, and the culture of your organization.

JTBD 2 Cloud Migration to Drive Growth Initiatives
Targets CIO, CFO, COO
Priorities - Drive growth initiatives
- Control costs
- Support distributed workforce
JTBD
statement
“Moving business applications to the cloud is a strategic imperative. The cloud is key to growth and better supports our distributed workforce. We need a path to the cloud with minimal disruption and at a pace that fits our unique mix of site needs and budget. Webex provides hybrid support, flexibility, and channel support to let me move mission-critical calling, collaboration, and contact center applications to the cloud with assurance and confidence.”
Snippets of supporting data “Data and Analytics” and “Cloud” are cited as #1 and #2 disruptive technologies (77% and 74% impact) affecting how businesses are running their operations, i.e., driving productivity, running workflows, moving goods and services, operating infrastructure, and carrying out business activities, according to KPMG, 2017.


JTBD 2 key insight: cloud migration is the number one initiative and all-consuming for many CIOs. It is a huge gating factor to growth and breakthrough leaps in efficiency.  Webex gets you to the cloud faster.  Tap into that.

JTBD 3 Secure Communications or Lose Our Jobs 
Targets CIO, CFO, COO
Priorities - Protect customer data
- Reduce loss of intellectual property
- Manage compliance & reduce regulatory risk
JTBD
statement
“Security is now a critical part of everything we do, especially with sensitive communications and customer data. I need communication and collaboration solution with security "baked-in" so we can focus on growth initiatives and sleep soundly at night.”
Snippets of supporting data The Conference Board reported that US CEOs rank cybersecurity as their #1 external concern for 2019. Security is the #1 management issue cited by CIOs and other IT executives surveyed by the Society for Information Management (SIM).

JTBD 3 key insight:  security is  non-negotiable.  It keeps CIOs and other C suite leaders up at night.  IT staff lose jobs over security.  Piece-part security solutions create enormous amounts of work and headaches for IT.  Do your customers an enormous favor and remind them of the depth and breadth of Webex and Cisco security capabilities.

Use Jobs to be Done for Your Offers


We feel that these JTBDs offer a strong starting point to engage prospects and customers. Instead of talking “product-out,” your sales teams and marketing content should lead with the customer concerns, or “customer-in” challenges. Instead of talking about specific features, hardware, or phone systems, the discussion might start with business objectives, growth plans, and customer experience.

These JTBDs are just the beginning for partners. As partners wrap their unique capabilities around Webex, even more compelling JTBDs are created. You can tackle the bigger and even more important “jobs” of your customers by combining Webex solutions with your broader solutions portfolio. Partner services that align with Webex include network solutions, managed services, migration services, systems integration, and overall service assurance. Not only does this help differentiate your Webex offer, but it can you drive an improved overall experience and set of outcomes for your customers.

Another important consideration is where you can enhance Webex JTBDs in combination with additional Cisco technologies and services. This includes Webex combined with Cisco networking, hardware, security, and channel certifications. These extended JTBDs bring even more tightly orchestrated and compelling value to customers, and even greater benefits for the CIO and key stakeholders.

In conclusion, SPs face an incredible opportunity to target and win the $2.1T enterprise spend on digital transformation that IDC forecasts  for 2019.

To best address this opportunity, you should:

1. Embrace digital engagement,
2. Lead with Webex and the greater Cisco portfolio, and
3. Use advanced go-to-market frameworks such as Jobs to be Done.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Secure and Compliant Collaboration with Webex Teams

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Easy, Secure Collaboration


In today’s modern and digital workplaces, teamwork transcends organizational and functional boundaries. Effective, secure, and compliant collaboration with your stakeholders, partners and customers is paramount to improving productivity.

Compliance, administration security controls and policies vary greatly across organizations and industry verticals. For any modern collaboration platform, it’s critical to have the flexibility to facilitate communications with external participants outside of the user’s organization – coupled with security controls that minimize friction for users. Webex Teams has a rich set of features spanning compliance, administrative controls and visibility – giving you a secure collaboration experience.

Webex Teams is the easiest messaging platform to set up for cross company collaboration

By default, Webex Teams is an open platform allowing users to communicate with others both inside and outside the organization – while still maintaining end to end encryption and control.

Compliance


Organizations need to comply with internal and external rules and regulations. Companies in regulated industries have to meet regulatory mandates in addition to their own compliance and data loss prevention policies. Cisco Webex Teams allows organizations to ensure compliance around data loss prevention through integration with leading CASB solutions like Cisco Cloudlock. These integrations allow visibility into all user generated content with immediate detection and remediation of user actions and posts that violate your compliance policies.

In addition, Cisco Webex Teams also supports “legal hold” to help organizations with data retention requirements to support legal investigations for compliance. During a litigation proceeding, organizations may be required to preserve data for a period that may be longer than their normal retention policy. In this case, legal hold can be enabled to ensure that relevant information is not purged, but instead retained until the litigation or investigation is complete.

Control


Under certain circumstances and regulatory environments, it may be necessary to block communication with external users who belong to a different organization. Administrators can enforce this policy and block external communications easily with native controls built in Webex Teams. When configured appropriately, users in the organization will no longer be able to message users outside their organization. We are enhancing this capability to allow limited communication to users only in approved domains via a Whitelist created and maintained by admins.

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Visibility


Communications with users outside an Organization represents a fairly significant surface area of risk and exposure. With some messaging solutions, administrators and compliance teams have no visibility when users communicate with people outside their organization. Webex Teams enables users from multiple companies to create cross-company channels and allows administrators or compliance officers from both companies to have visibility into all communications generated by users who belong to their respective organizations.

The built in ediscovery search tool provides Compliance officers the ability to search and extract content generated by specific custodians (users) across a time range of interest.

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Additionally, many enterprises have invested in enterprise content management (ECM) solutions. Webex Teams allows integration with ECM solutions, such as Microsoft OneDrive and Sharepoint Online, and ensures that only files permitted by the ECM solution can be shared via Webex Teams. Access control policies and permissions configured in the content management system extend to users of Webex Teams in a seamless fashion without the need for any replication.

The setup has zero deployment cost, requiring just a simple toggle in Webex Control Hub. Additionally, it requires no change to an organization’s existing data loss prevention (DLP) policies, or the need to buy additional licenses. Moreover, Webex Teams also provides IT administrators with full control, so they can decide which SharePoint Online and OneDrive domains or Office 365 Tenant they want to use. This means that only IT-approved domains are available to users, thus minimizing the risk of data leakage while providing greater protection against malware threats.

Webex Teams also allows IT managers to disable storage of user documents in the Webex cloud without impacting user workflows. All user files are stored only in IT’s selected file storage system- including file previews. Content Management settings are very easy to configure as shown below.

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Thursday, 29 August 2019

The Agility Quadrant

Last evening, I had a lively discussion with my friend Paul on the state of agility in his organization, a midsize company of about 6000 employees. He mentioned that agile is the flavor of the year in his organization and that their executive Samuel had set a goal “We shall be agile by the end of this fiscal year!” He further mentioned that Samuel had directed all his reportees to comply and put Melissa in charge of the transformation

Melissa was Paul’s manager and – guess what – in their last one-on-one discussion, she tasked Paul with this responsibility. So, the responsibility of agile transformation had been delegated to Paul.

My next question to Paul was on his action plan. Paul mentioned that he had been given a good budget. So, he had reached out to the best vendor in the market to come in and ensure that “We shall be agile by the end of this fiscal year!”

Clearly, Paul and his organization had not heard of the Law of Conservation of Agility, which states that:

Agility can neither be delegated nor be outsourced; it can only be cultivated by self and instilled, ingrained by leadership, within and outside.

Let’s try understanding the implications of delegation and outsourcing of Agility. I love to explain this through the LIDO Quadrant.



1. DI —The Quadrant of FRUSTRATION

This is where Paul’s organization started. Leaders have heard the buzzword “agile” and wish they could use the adjective for their organization. There is no effort in place to change things from the top. Agile is considered as a thing for IT and more specifically software development portion of the entire value stream. Leaders expect the people to adopt agile practices. Leaders believe that agile is a shiny cloak that can be worn over the same old dirty clothes without any effort of cleansing the clothes and the body that clads the cloak.

Organizations in this quadrant have a bunch of employees with fancy certifications who are expected to help transform people into agile beings. Employees in such organizations end up taking the same instructions as before from the leadership by standing up instead of sitting down(through Daily Stand Ups). Concepts of continuous prioritization at the portfolio; framing and evaluating the hypothesis behind portfolio initiatives; funding value streams as opposed to projects remain alien concepts.

The empowerment and transparency tenets of Agile are conveniently overlooked. Employees continue to work on fixed scope and delivery date mechanisms but are expected to provide status updates daily.

This is the quadrant of demotivation and frustration where employees feel micromanaged in the garb of Agility. The most likely comment that you may hear from organizations in this quadrant is “Agile doesn’t work!”

2. LO — The Quadrant of INSECURITY


This quadrant is a mixed bag. Leaders understand the basic but outsource the transformation completely to outside consultants. Outside consultants can be wonderful agents to educate an organization and kick start the process of transformation. However, familiarity and respect for the organization’s culture is very important and is the critical missing piece here.


An internal Agile Centre of Excellence can vastly mitigate the cultural shock. Purists may agree that you cannot do “part time” agile. At the same time, agility is not a cookie cutter that can be applied to any organization. The focus needs to be on values and principles of agility and not on mechanics of Agility like how to use an agile project management tool or how to settle the debate on a user story being five story points or three. An internal Centre of Excellence with the right coaches can be a great recipe for success as it helps people soak in these concepts.

Organizations in this quadrant may see initial signs of success due to “compliance” but it ultimately wears off as the outsider vs insider debate catches on. Employees tend to have a sense of insecurity as they are often expected to change their way of working based on the view of people who do not have a complete stake in their success. The most likely comment that you may hear from organizations in this quadrant is “Do we really need agile?”

3. DO — The Quadrant of INDIFFERENCE


This is the quadrant that Paul’s organization landed in after starting with DI, the quadrant of frustration. Organizations with large wallets often end up in this because they think that agility can be bought. Statements of Work with outside vendors are created with the expectation that they bring the magic potion that can transform the organization. There is a lack of sincere attempt by the leadership to imbibe and practise the basics.


This quadrant gives you the myth of agility. Leaders feel they are agile because they have invested in the best vendor and the vendors provide vanity metrics to show the organization is now agile. Everyone is happy and the organization claims victory. The myth “we are agile” has engulfed the organization.

Organizations in this quadrant end up going nowhere. Agility, which talks about taking a product view as opposed to project-centric view, itself ends up being a project! And once the project ends, things are back to the old ways. The most likely comment that you may hear from organizations in this quadrant is “Who cares!”

4. LI —The Quadrant of RELENTLESS IMPROVEMENT


This is the quadrant where leaders inspire the organization to agile maturity through their actions and practices. Leaders understand the values and principles of agility and catalyze the mindset transformation of their organizations. They do so by empowering in-house change agents and leaders. These change agents are mindful of the culture of the organization and have a good understanding of the precise areas to focus.


People feel happy about the change as they see every level of the organization living those values. They get the feeling that “we are all together in this.” They understand that it is not a directive but a transformation. This is the quadrant of relentless improvement.

Organizations in this quadrant are likely to be on the path to relentless improvement through continuous learning with the help of small experiments and sticking to the ones that are helpful; all the while remaining grounded to the values and principles of agile.

The most likely comment that you may hear from organizations in this quadrant is “Agile makes sense!”

Which quadrant is your organization in? A lot of organizations start with DO or DI. The really successful ones make it to LI, the quadrant of relentless improvement. Paul’s organization may take some time to reach there.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Six Essentials for B2B Email Marketing Success

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“That might work in B2C, but we’re B2B,” said my client, as if B2B marketers are from Mars and B2C from Venus. And true, while it sometimes seems that way the good news is we’re both inhabiting planet Earth which is populated by human beings. Luckily human beings – whether they’re receiving email in a business or a consumer context – tend to think and act in remarkably predictable ways.

So now whenever I hear the all too common “but we’re B2B” refrain, I sympathetically respond that whether your company sells to other businesses or to consumers, people are on the other end of your email making decisions about if and how to engage.

Nonetheless, as a B2B marketer myself I am acutely aware of the differences between B2B and B2C. I know the challenges we face specific to email; like smaller email list sizes, longer and more complex sales cycles, business models that don’t (or can’t) support ecommerce, and difficulty in reaching the inboxes of (let alone influencing) decision-makers.

With the business-to-business marketer’s unique distinctions in mind, here are six essentials for B2B email marketing success. As we explore them in more detail, let’s also take a lesson or two from our B2C cousins who’ve paved the way to optimal performance in this powerful marketing channel.

Right Mindset: Long-term Commitment


It’s time for B2B marketers to take the channel as seriously as B2C marketers do. Consumer-facing retailers and ecommerce brands have mastered the use of email to directly drive sales revenue (and a lot of it). Even though the path to sales may be indirect vs. directfor B2B marketers, email goes a long way toward progressing prospects through the sales funnel faster, empowering the customer journey, and strengthening confidence and loyalty. “Taking it seriously” means committing toconsistentintentional messaging, a channel budget, integration with sales, human/agency resources, and strategy while avoiding an on-again, off-again approach.

Think Dialog, not Blast


The days of “batch and blast” email campaigns are long gone (or should be!).B2C email marketers learned this during the fledgling days of marketing automation when they began pioneering “sense-and-respond” emails that were deployed to recognize high-value actions or prevent conversion attrition; like welcome, onboarding, repurchase and abandonment-recovery campaigns. Programs such as these are intentionally designed and sequenced to align tightly with the customer lifecycle and natural inflection points on the customer journey. They mirror a conversation vs. simple one-way communication. It’s time for B2B email to do so as well.

Mine Data for Gold


B2C email marketers have long treated their email lists as a high-value asset, but also know data isn’t limited to merely the subscriber information they collect and campaign response metrics tracked. When married with CDP (customer data platform) and ecommerce data, email subscriber data can be mined for all sorts of nuggets that make segmentation and customization a powerful reality. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all campaigns. Now that we can identify subscriber segments based on behavior, we can dynamically and intentionally message them to reflect their actions preferences, present ultra-relevant offers and entice with timely calls to action. Today’s more advanced systems, APIs and middleware solutions mean data integration from across multiple platforms is practically seamless and far from the painful tech miasma it once was.

Content is King 


Because of B2B’s longer sales cycles often necessitating prospect nurturing to foster eventual conversion, content marketingplays a more important role in B2B than B2C. Yet even with their often direct route from inbox to sales, B2C emailers know that constant promotional messaging without breaks for education, entertainment and information lead to subscriber fatigue and eventual burnout – or worse yet, complaints. So, content-oriented messages designed more to sell by way of serving are an integral part of the mix. B2B marketers are often content-rich and should leverage and extend their content assets into email. Content like case studies, success stories, white papers, webinars, worksheets, comparison grids, feature lists, and research findings make for excellent subscriber engagement and confidence builders. Plus, interaction with content can be scored to identify hot vs. warm vs. cold leads and segment them for unique and appropriate automated follow-up emails

Personality Please!


Once upon a time, B2B marketing became synonymous with “boring” while B2C marketing was allowed to be edgy, creative and fun. I say no more! B2B email can be just as personality-driven as B2C, and is more memorable and welcomed when it is. Take Phrasee for example (a language optimization AI company). They have a distinct brand personality and tone unmistakable in every one of their weekly email newsletters, down to the emojis in subject lines. If your brand or company has a unique personality – or is known for the personality of your founder (think Steve Jobs and Apple) – your email should be letting it shine. In fact, we need more B2B email with personality and style like this one:

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Measure Engagement Every Step of the Way


Finally, B2B marketers must close the loop by measuring the results of all our hard work. B2C marketers invest heavily in accountability and attribution, tracking both basic process and key success metrics like completed CTAs, Average Order Value (AOV), sales, revenue, and repeat buyers. Even if channel attribution is more difficult in B2B than B2C, you still need to know what’s working and what isn’t to generate opens, clicks, completed CTAs and more on a campaign-to-campaign or month-over-month basis. But don’t stop there!

What does engagement mean to you? Is it an open, a click, time spent with content, time on site, a call to a sales rep, or some other measure of response such as time to conversion, # of emails opened/clicked per quarter/year, content downloads? Take the time to define what types of engagement prompted by your email are meaningful measures for you, then keep track of them.

If you’re a B2B marketer, there’s no reason that second “B” needs to equate to “blast” or “boring”. With a little ingenuity and a quick study of your B2C contemporaries, B2B email can be just as relevant, timely, tech-savvy and fun as B2C email. Remember these lessons and challenge yourself the next time you’re tempted to say “… but we’re B2B”.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

VXLANv6 – VXLANv-what?

Virtual Extensible LAN (also known as VXLAN) is a network virtualization technology that attempts to address the scalability problems associated with large cloud computing deployments. With the recent launch of Cisco’s VXLANv6, we’ve added the the Cisco overlay, and run it over an IPv6 transport network (underlay). Not only is our VXLANv6 fully capable of transporting IPv6, it can also handle IPv4 payloads, an important distinction as many application and services still require IPv4.

In the near future, VXLANv6 will allow a consistent IPv6 approach, both in the underlay as well as the overlay. With the newly shipped Cisco NX-OS 9.3(1) release that delivers VXLANv6, our customers can take advantage of this new exciting technology today.

In this blog we are going to talk about

◈ A brief overview of VXLANv6

◈ Expansibility and Investment Protection with VXLANv6

◈ IPv4 and IPv6 Coexistence

◈ Where are we going with VXLANv6

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Many years ago whenI was struggling to get my modem working, I remember reading that an IETF draft for Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) had been filed. At that point of time, the reality of IPv6 was so far away we talked about retirement before we even considered widespread adoption. But as it always is in tech, everything comes around much sooner than one anticipates. While IPv6 had a difficult start, it’s now become a table stakes requirement for Applications and Services.

With Network Virtualization, it became easy to tunnel both IPv6 and IPv4 over the top of networks built with IPv4. In these traditional IPv4-Overlay cases, the Tunnel Endpoint (TEP) as well as the transport network (Underlay) reside in the IPv4 address space. The Applications and Services exist in a different addressing space (Overlay), which could be IPv4, IPv6 or Dual-Stack enabled; v4v6-over-v4 is a common theme these days. In the last few years, VXLAN has become a defacto standard for an overlay as it is employed both as a network-based overlay as well as a host-based overlay. VXLAN as the data plane, together with BGP EVPN as a control-plane, has become the prime choice of deployment for the new-age spine-leaf based data centers.

With the expansion of network virtualization using virtual machine and container workloads, infrastructure resources like IP addresses have to be reserved not only for the applications and services, but also for the infrastructure components itself. As a result, overlap of the IP address space is often seen between the underlay and overlay, given the exhaustion in the uniqueness of RFC1918 addresses.

Below are the top reasons you should care about VXLANv6


Reason 1: One of the most difficult scenarios for overlapping address space is when it comes to network operations, trouble-shooting, and monitoring. The IP addresses used for the management and monitoring of the infrastructure are often required to be unique across the different devices. Also, the IP subnets for the management and monitoring stations have the same requirement, and, there should be no overlap between management and managed devices.The alternative is network address translation (NAT).

Reason 2: The exhaustion of unique IP addresses is just one of many cases that drives us towards IPv6. Other use-cases include government regulation, compliancy demands, or simple ease of infrastructure IP addressing. While we were reviewing the use-cases around IPv6 infrastructure addressing together with the current install base of technology and devices, one simple solution became obvious – VXLAN over an IPv6 underlay or in short VXLANv6.

Reason 3: VXLANv6 allows us to use a well-known overlay technology, namely VXLAN, and run it over an IPv6 transport network (Underlay). In the case of VXLANv6, the VXLAN Tunnel Endpoints (VTEPs) are addressed with a global IPv6 address associated with a loopback interface. The reachability of the VTEPs is achieved by using either IPv6 Link-Local or IPv6 global addressing along with an IPv6 capable routing protocol like IS-IS, OSPFv3 or BGP. Considering the option of using IPv6 Link-Local addressing, the subnet calculation and address assignment can be optimized and the underlay setup duration can be significantly reduced.

In addition to the VTEP and underlay topology and reachability, the overlay control-plane also needs to be IPv6 enabled. This is true in the case of Multi-Protocol BGP, especially with the EVPN address-family, peering, next-hop handling, and exchange of routes has been enabled for IPv6.

At this point, we have not configured a single IPv4 address for the purpose of routing or reachability, neither for the underlay nor for the overlay itself because IPv6 does the job well. Remaining numbering that leverages an IPv4 notation are the fields like Router-ID and Route Distinguisher. Even as these numbers look like IPv4 addresses, they are only identifiers that could be of any combination of numbers.

Capabilities


VXLANv6 and vPC: Connecting Servers Redundantly 

Once the VTEPs are running VXLANv6, the next step is to connect servers redundantly. VPC is the answer. The vPC Peer Keepalive has been elevated to employ IPv6, either on the management interface or via the front panel ports. With VXLAN and vPC, we used the concept of Anycast to share the same VTEP IP address between both vPC members. While in secondary IP addresses are used in IPv4, in IPv6 all the addresses on a given interface are of equal priority. This little detail led us to expand the VTEPs source-interface command to allow the selection of the loopback for the Primary IP (PIP) and the loopback for the Virtual IP (VIP) separately.

There is no IPv4 address configured for the purpose of routing or reachability.With vPC you’re good to go.

IPv4 and VXLANv6: Transporting IPv4 and IPv6 payloads

At this point we probably have some Applications or Services that require IPv4. WithVXLANv6, you can transport not only IPv6, but also IPv4 payloads. The Distributed IP Anycast Gateway (DAG) that provides the integrated routing and bridging (IRB) function of EVPN is supported for IPv4, IPv6, and dual-stacked endpoints residing in the overlay networks. Seamless host-mobility and Multi-Tenant IP Subnet routing is also supported, along with the counterpart VXLAN deployment running over an IPv4 transport network (VXLANv4). Cisco also supports Layer-2 transport over VXLANv6. Broadcast, Unknown Unicast, and Multicast (BUM) is handled through Ingress-Replication (aka Head-End Replication).

With IPv4, IPv6 or both payloads in VXLANv6, we have to somehow make the associated endpoints reachable to the rest of the world. The Border node has the capability to terminate VXLANv6 encapsulated traffic, whereas the decapsulated payload is sent via Sub-Interfaces with per-VRF peering (aka inter-AS Option A) to the External Router. Again, no IPv4 addressing in the infrastructure necessary.

What’s next for VXLANv6?


Overlays went a long way to support IPv6 migrations. Even so, underlays are predominantly deployed with IPv4 addressing. VXLANv6 changes the landscape and allows a consistent IPv6 approach, in the underlay, in the overlay, or wherever you need it.

VXLANv6 is enabled for individual VTEPs, vPC VTEPs, Spines with BGP Route-Reflector, and in the role as a Border node. In the near future, VXLANv6 will use PIMv6 for BUM replication in the underlay and subsequently Tenant Routed Multicast (TRM) over VXLANv6 will become a reality. And, VXLANv6 will be enabled on the Border Gateway (BGW), where our Multi-Site architecture can be used with a complete IPv6 only infrastructure, with new DCNM functionality enabling support for all these newer functionalities for all NX-OS devices.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Network automation: offering choices now key

Since that time, the approach has not evolved much. But some of the solutions available have, as well as moving past the SDN term towards network automation. So it’s a perfect time to revisit the subject and explore some of options now available for turnkey and open source solutions around network automation.

Options for network automation


Every IT organization is at a different stage of their in-house operational expertise and business requirements to execute and deliver IT services faster. Plus, no two network environments are the same. And it’s almost certain that 90%+ of the IT organizations looking to leverage automation, have a current install base they need to support. This is where the approach of offering various levels of network automation is critical.

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Figure 1. The three categories of options for network automation.

The various options available can be aligned into three categories (see figure 1) that give IT organizations the power of choice. While the solutions themselves have evolved, these three categories have not. They are:

◈ Prescriptive “turnkey”
◈ Open source/standard tools and API’s with Cisco hardware/virtual network functions (VNF)
◈ Support for Heterogeneous Hardware/VNF Environments.

Prescriptive “turnkey”


The prescriptive “turnkey” options work best for organizations that have a limited amount of automation and programmability skill sets within the operations teams. Cisco’s offerings in this option have a set of common attributes, such as:

◈ Hiding of complex configurations that are typically done via the CLI
◈ Prescriptive on-boarding of new network elements (plug-n-play, zero-touch-provisioning)
◈ Pre-built GUI application
◈ A controlled fabric domain
◈ Some form of analytics and assurance
◈ And an “under the covers” device/fabric configuration which normal operations (CLI) could take days/weeks to accomplish.

Turnkey solutions typically target Cisco-specific hardware/software to allow the simplification of all of these tasks and offerings. Examples of these solutions include Cisco Software Defined-Access (SDA) with the DNA Center controller, Cisco Software Defined WAN (SD-WAN), Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) for on-prem data center build-outs, and in the large enterprise and SP space, the recent Cisco CrossWork framework for closed-loop automation.

Open source/standard tools and VNF


Open source/standard tools and API’s with Cisco hardware/virtual network functions (VNF) can be used by those wanting to use Cisco hardware and/or VNF’s, but who prefer to leverage a more open set of controllers (API’s, SDK’s and open source tool sets and applications).

The typical customer using this approach already embraced a NetDevOps model and “do it yourself” mentality within their IT operations team. Plus, they have the in-house expertise to support it on a daily basis. And they are driving Cisco hardware/VNF’s to offer and support a rich set of standard API’s and overall management stack to allow them to leverage this type of NetDevOps approach.

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Figure 2. The Model-Driven Manageability Stack

To support IT operations team using this approach, Cisco has created an open source management protocol stack (see figure 2) in some of its new software releases. This gives do-it-yourself type IT operations the ability to configure and collect valuable telemetry from Cisco hardware/VNF’s via third-party API’s (YANG models) and open protocols to/from the Cisco devices.

Leveraging YANG models


The goal of this model-driven protocol stack is to decouple the protocol, encoding and transport options from one another while leveraging the YANG models for both device configuration and telemetry collection. The result is that any application north of the network element has a consistent protocol stack to leverage for development of applications.

For example, an application written in Python can take advantage of the YANG Development Kit for Python (YDK-py) SDK. It leverages gRPC, with GBP encoding, using either native Cisco YANG models or OpenConfig models for configuration and operations of the Cisco device.

The exact same combination can also be used to stream telemetry from the devices to some collection stack, further simplifying the communication channels required. For customers embracing Cisco hardware/VNF’s, but who prefer developing their own applications to configure/modify the devices and collect telemetry, the model-driven management stack offers those capabilities through open source protocols, encoding and API’s (YANG models).

While there are many other open source tools that fit into this category, Ansible is a highly regarded one in the network operations space. This is because it doesn’t require a device agent to communicate with the device, it’s modules are widely available, it’s open source, and it’s viewed by many as a more readable language.

Heterogeneous hardware/VNF environments


The third option, support for heterogeneous hardware/VNF environments, targets customers like those in option two. They’ve embraced the NetDevOps model and have critical in-house expertise to fully support it. They’re able to leverage the exact same approach and capabilities as option two (if all their vendors can support the management protocol stack offerings).

What differentiates this multi-vendor option is the additional need to support an open standard transport (control and data plane) common to all of the vendors in the network. This could include IPv4/v6 and Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) with multi-protocol BGP (MP-BGP), which has existed in multi-vendor environments for years. More recently, E-VPN/VXLAN in data center and campus fabrics, as well as Segment Routing with a Path Computational Element (PCE), is gaining traction in large service capable backbones.

Empowering network automation


As I discussed in the first blog, offering options similar to those above empowers customers with a variety of approaches as their network operations teams transition to automation.

As with any transformational shift of this scale, there are trade-offs to consider; ones that clearly align with the operational skill set of the organization (specifically the DevOps skills they are capable of injecting into their daily operations).

In the end, offering choices to customers as they move down the path of SDN, automation and programmability is, in my opinion, no longer an option but a necessity. But the choices offered should include common ground for supporting automation in a multi-vendor environment. The key challenge will be aligning the options offered by single or multiple vendors to the business needs of the IT organization. Lastly, if your IT organization is new to automation, don’t attempt to boil the entire ocean. Just focus on automating the day-to-day repeatable processes found in your network operations. By doing that, your organization can more quickly gain value from network automation.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Cisco Co-Innovation Centers are Giving Connectivity a Health-Check

Healthcare is something that, at one point or another, touches upon every single person – whether it’s their own health or that of older or more vulnerable relatives.

Yet, across Europe, access to both reactive and preventative healthcare resources is being stretched as a result of people living longer and under-resourcing of health professionals.

One way in which connectivity can help tackle this strain is through allowing more advanced technology to be used, alongside enabling better access to existing technology.

One of the biggest hurdles though is not the lack of this technology, but the high levels of digital exclusion. Despite many people taking things such as the internet or digital literacy for granted, millions of people lack basic skills or access to digital tools.

I believe that everyone should have access to these digital tools as a basic right.

The Digital Exclusion Epidemic


Digital exclusion is the term that we give to members of a society who are unable to access many tools and services that we take for granted. This can affect everything from access to digital resources around health conditions to being able to book appointments online.

Across the continent, 80 million Europeans never use the internet because of the cost, with many of these being vulnerable citizens who would benefit most from access. In the UK, 10% of people have never used the internet, with 4/5 of these being over 65.

This lack of access has a number of negative consequences:

Firstly, individuals are unable to access online resources which could help provide information around existing or likely health conditions. This also rules out advanced services such as remote healthcare provisioning or wearable tracking. This not only limits the individual’s ability to help themselves, but makes them more likely to have to seek help at hospitals or from local doctors.

Secondly, a lack of connectivity makes the job of care workers visiting homes more difficult, as they are not able to do their job as quickly or as effectively. This means that resources are again stretched further. Ultimately, there is a need to shift between the capabilities of health and social care in order to maximise both resources. Look at hospitals for example: they’re already over-populated, including patients who remain on wards as they don’t have the means to be looked after if they return home. We need to be looking at how technology and connectivity can help give patients the same type of care at home as they are receiving in the hospital.

Finally, it’s not just physical health, but mental health as well which is impacted. Digital exclusion means being unable to use social networks or other tools to stay in touch with family and friends.

All of these don’t just have an impact on the individuals involved, but the wider healthcare ecosystem and society as a whole too.

This is not something which can be fixed overnight, but it’s something that can be solved if public health bodies, technology companies, governments and individuals work together.

How We Are Helping


We’re working alongside the government and councils of Suffolk on a project called Connected Together. This is a digital connectivity inclusion project, trialled in Haverhill, Suffolk, which aims to support greater independence through the use of digital services to citizens currently with care and support needs, while also providing quick, secure connectivity for the public sector workers who routinely visit them.

We believe that by installing connectivity for free into the homes that need it most, we can help spark positive changes that will benefit local councils, care workers and those living in the community.

We believe in the power of advanced technology to make a real difference in the future, but we also realise that having basic internet access is the bedrock for this to happen. There is a cost to this, but it’s one that pales in significance to the savings that will be seen further down the line.

Another initiative I’m excited by is the Center of Connected Health established in Cisco’s German Innovation Center, openBerlin. This innovation centre is one of many that we have set up worldwide, with the intention of showcasing digital solutions to complex problems and making those tangible for the healthcare sector.

The role of Cisco’s Center of Connected Health is to demonstrate the innovative ways in which we can connect different healthcare silos with the goal of significantly improving the efficiency and quality of care for care providers and patients at the same time.

It deploys consistent standards to help hospitals, clinics, care providers, insurers and patients securely and responsibly access patient data. In the future we expect to see multiple electronic health record solutions maintained by multiple providers. The real challenge then becomes the ability to securely connect those sources.

By demonstrating and explaining the value of connected health-data solutions, the Center of Connected Health will smooth the healthcare sector’s journey towards digitalisation.

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What’s more, in our co-innovation centre in Dubai, we’re continuing to look at the role of connectivity in improving healthcare. The centre provides a test-bed for innovative telemedicine solutions, with an example being an application that allows for a patients’ vitals to be tested and then analysed alongside all other health records. This helps identify the need for medical care more effectively and helps collaboration across the eco-system. Elsewhere, a new Cisco co-creation pilot, developed by the Cisco Saudi Arabia CDA team, has pioneered virtual, smartphone-enabled consultations between patients and physicians.

Solutions such as these will become all the more significant as more and more people in the Middle East and Africa get online for the first time.

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If we are to truly benefit from the improved care technology allows us, then we need to make sure everyone has the basic digital tools, abilities and access. Connectivity will allow for better technology and data to be shared, making life better for everyone.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Cisco SX350X and SX550X 10GE Switches for SMB

With cloud, virtualization, internet of things, 11ac and Wifi 6, businesses need a high-performance network to support the growing devices, applications and traffic. 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GE) may sound like an overkill for small and midsize businesses (SMB) a few years ago, but today it has increasingly become a necessity.

Cisco Small Business team develops networking technologies tailored for SMB. In 2014, we launched our 1st 10GE switch for SMB market. In 2016, we expanded our 10GE switch line to 8 models. And now, we’re bringing our 10GE offering to the next level.

Cisco SX350X and SX550X 10GE Switches


The new offering includes 11 models – 5 in the 350X series and 6 in 550X series. The port density starts from just 8 ports of 10GE all the way to 52 ports. And there is a diverse selection of 10GE copper, 10GE fiber or mixed config models for different use cases. Most importantly, these switches are now more affordable – perfect for SMB to upgrade their network with limited investment.

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The switches also come with a bunch of exciting features including

◆ 4 x combo 10GE uplinks for maximum flexibility
◆ Larger packet buffer to handle burst in traffic
◆ Trustworthy systems including secure boot and run time defense for security
◆ Stackable with existing SG550XG and SG350XG 10G switches for investment protection

Embedded FindIT Probe and Cisco PnP Connect


In the recent software updates, we have introduced some exciting new capabilities. These are all to make the deployment and operation of the switches even more intuitive and secure. Download the software updates for your switches at Cisco Software Central.

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Why Cisco 100-500 series switches an ideal option for SMB?


SMB loves 100-500 series switches for the following reasons

◈ Simple, easy to use UI – No CLI skill required
◈ Warranty support model – limited lifetime hardware warranty and software updates
◈ No service contracts or licensing required
◈ Everyday affordable price

Friday, 16 August 2019

Managing your SAP Digital Transformation Journey

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Digital Transformation.


We’ve heard the words, but have you wondered what it is all about? Digital Transformation is a strategic directive to redefine your business practices and processes to gain competitive advantage. It is all about making the inevitable tide of change work for you, rather than against you. It is also a disruptive force.

Digital Transformation requires a Plan


Amid all the talk of digital transformation, we lose sight that the process of change must be purposeful to have impact. Digitizing marketing content, hiring social media marketing millennials or modernizing your ERP applications is not digital transformation and will fail to yield any measurable advantage without a strategic vision, direction and careful planning.

You need to address where the beating heart of change resides – the data center. The data center is a critical component that factors into making any digital transformation plan successful.

Digital Transformation Requires a Next Generation Data Center


The classic architecture of the data center was primarily silos of design, implementation and operation. There were networking organizations, compute organizations, storage organizations, security organizations, and procurement organizations. The list goes on. And each of these silos was responsible for the operation and interaction with the other silos. This has proved to be very inefficient and created extra lag in the system. In fact, most early cloud adoption happened because data centers took too long to respond to new application demand or new data sources. Cloud adoption was an operational imperative, not a strategic directive for many organizations.

So, to drive digital transformation, the next generation data center has to be all about the Data, and the functionality that will move the data center anywhere the data is.

It’s all about the Data


Traditionally, data centers were built like bastions to protect the crown jewel data assets of the corporation. Security protected the storage vault and the data was replicated across multiple systems for different reporting and analytic purposes. Integrating new data or non-IP data with those crown jewels required a herculean effort. The result was an under performing application delivered far to late to be remotely advantageous. What has become clear is that data center designs based on siloed architectures and 4-walled bastions of data management will no longer work.

A new data center model is needed as executive visionaries drive new business practices. Data will be coming from everywhere and it won’t be curated. It will be public. It will be messy. And there will be a lot of it. Data gravity may shift from the core of the data center to multiple locations forcing a hybrid data center solution.

Accelerated change will force a new generation of application development running concurrent with operations. These applications will be distributed to run closer to their data sources and will be part of a network of applications spread across multiple locations.

Cisco can help you on your Digital Transformation Journey


Cisco is designing the next generation data center for SAP applications. Cisco Validated Designs are focusing on aspects of programmability, automation, operational insights, application performance and security in depth. Each of these aspects will be covered in a series of blogs to help understand the technology and the competitive advantage available to Cisco data center customers.

Hopefully it is becoming evident that gaining competitive advantage for your business is this area requires a plan. It requires comprehensive alignment across all departments in your business, inbound and outbound marketing aligning with product design, manufacturing and supply chain partnerships with greater flexibility and visibility to operations, and finance and accounting systems delivering a competitive advantage where only cost centers existed.

Embrace change. It is inevitable. And Cisco is building the bridge between data and business advantage to help you succeed in your digital transformation journey.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Cybersecurity for Federal Networks: It All Starts with Visibility

A configuration mistake or purposeful mis-configuration is no joke. But it does illustrate how a misconfigured network can quickly become a security event (or it may already be one and your team does not know it). But how do you distinguish normal network activity from abnormal? Without visibility into every corner of the network (including the virtual world of the data center), and some ability to compare current vs. baseline, it can be extremely difficult and there may be many “little events” that remain hidden to you.

Deeper network visibility enabled


This story does raise the question, how do you enable the benefits of deeper network visibility? That capability is provided by Cisco Stealthwatch. It enables you to strategically analyze the collective telemetry from NetFlow and IP Flow Information Export (IPFIX), two protocols every network device can export (see figure 1).

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Figure 1. Stealthwatch collects NetFlow and IPFIX from every network device for Visibility.

You can also add value to your data center through Cisco Tetration. It provides unmatched visibility into behavioral deviations, whether terrestrial or cloud-based. While “behavioral visibility” is a bit different than the visibility discussion so far, it is critical to the protection and operation of the modern data center. A good example is one we saw recently with one of our customers, where a seemingly insignificant and otherwise undetected data stream out of the data center turned out to be a command and control channel. Thankfully for the customer, Tetration uncovered the threat in less than 30 seconds.

Deeper visibility + identity = attribution


Visibility in modern IT networks must go beyond the mere identification of packet flows. User identity should also be linked to packet flows wherever possible. Look at it this way, if you want to reach max visibility, think:

Visibility + Identity = Attribution

With attribution, you can see unexpected or undesired network behavior, plus you can link that behavior back to individual actors on your network. It is no longer just “some machine that did something weird.” Instead it is a concrete action with a concrete identity: such as “RedGuy” at “3:20pm” reached out to a “Command and Control” site (whether he meant to or not), becoming patient zero for your next computer epidemic.

The power of deeper visibility into your network


To help illustrate the power of deeper visibility on your network, consider another actual event we can all relate to. A contractor (let’s call him BlueGuy) goes to work. It’s Saturday and the office is empty. In the quiet loneliness all around, he begins downloading terabytes of data from another site. This continues, with downloads sprinkled throughout the day. Some may consider this suspicious behavior.

On most networks this might go unnoticed. But as Stealthwatch observes network activity in its entirety, it understands this behavior is not normal, based on previous baselines. As a result, this behavior is considered excessive. As Stealthwatch constantly monitors all the network transactions, it detects BlueGuy’s activity and it reports on it. In its communication with the Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE), individual identity is assigned to the network data flows, and attribution is achieved. BlueGuy is busted.

Initially, it may seem that no good can come of this type of network activity. But upon further investigation, it turns out that BlueGuy uses the office on weekends to study for his Cisco CCNA. While he does this on his own time, he must do so from the office network because the courseware is on a corporate network at another site (this explains the enormous data exchanges). So it is revealed as a harmless event, rather than a massive data breach. Yet the entire episode would have remained unknown without complete network visibility. What if it had been a breach? Would your network have seen it?

SGTs, NetFlow, IPFIX and the world of packet flow


In this latest example, the two primary tools used are Cisco Stealthwatch and Cisco ISE. ISE adds attribution to the NetFlow/IPFIX packet flow collected by Stealthwatch. With Scalable Group Tags (SGTs), ISE tags all packets as they enter the network. SGTs can be used for both identification and enforcement anywhere in the network.

Of course, Stealthwatch sees all packet flows via NetFlow/IPFIX and performs analysis based on all network data, including the SGTs. Individual attribution is achieved via pxGrid communications between Stealthwatch and ISE. These results can then be presented to an administrator for disposition, including quarantine (see Figure 2).

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Figure 2 – ISE adds Attribution to the Visibility story.

What about firewalls?


You may have noticed in both Figures 1 and 2 there are far more network devices than there are security devices. This is typical in any network. However, both visibility and attribution must rely on the entire network fabric to assist with the goal of complete visibility.

As you can see in the diagrams, putting your faith in security devices alone for visibility can fail (or certainly fall short). While the deployment of additional firewalls (or other assorted security devices) may add more points of visibility, no number of firewalls can achieve what you can by using the entire network as a sensor.

The Zero Trust wasteland


When it comes to securing Federal government networks, a few Zero Trust models have emerged recently, along with the thought that a network should be viewed as an untrusted wasteland of packet freeways where all security should focus on data. But it would be unwise to simply dismiss the incredible power of identity and visibility combined (attribution).

For IT leaders, the track record is clear: controlling entry and monitoring activity of users in the corporate/government network is the best way to track offensive behavior or bad actors. This approach can give you the capability to control, or even eliminate, threats before they reach your data.

Or, to relate it in everyday language, when we let strangers into our homes, we don’t pause and quickly weld the refrigerator door shut and disable the WiFi. Instead, we use common sense: screening them before they enter, watching their behavior as they do so and ensuring their actions inside our home are acceptable. If they do take a peek into our fridge, we may trust (thanks to attribution) that they are not necessarily going after the last of the cupcakes. But if they do, we’ll be ready.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

5 Types of Talk Triggers for Your B2B Strategy

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Customer experience is simple, right? Well, theoretically, the delivery of great customer experience is rooted in an easy-to-understand formula: Great customer experience happens when you exceed customer expectations.

Every time you interact with a business of any type, you have an idea or an inkling of how that interaction will go. That’s the expectation. If the business exceeds your expectation in a noticeable way, you have a great experience. If the business falls short of your expectation, you think the opposite.

The best companies in the world, don’t do a lot of marketing. Do you know why? They operationalize something about their business that motivates their customers to become volunteer marketers on their behalf.

Word of mouth is more important than ever. We trust each other twice as much as we trust brands. It’s the most powerful and persuasive form of marketing.

Everybody thinks word of mouth is important. Between 50 and 91% of all purchases are influenced by word of mouth, but very few companies have a strategy for it. We assume our customers will talk about us, but will they? The biggest mistake we make is assuming that competency creates conversation, that being a good business is enough to get people to tell the story. But all your competitors are also good. Good enough is not enough.

A talk trigger is a strategic, operational differentiator that compels word of mouth. It causes your customers to involuntarily talk about your business. A Talk Trigger isn’t a surprise-and-delight social media tactic, nor is it a gimmick. It doesn’t involve Drake, Rhianna or Cardi B. Oftentimes, it’s something quite ordinary, like a business card, company hold music, or a pre-meeting phone call, that you choose to make different.

A Talk Trigger can also help you exceed customer expectations. Why? Because your customers aren’t expecting it. There are the five distinct types of Talk Triggers. These are the conversational levers you can pull:

You can be more human than your customers expect.

You can be more useful than your customers expect.

You can be more generous than your customers expect.

You can be more responsive than your customers expect.

You can be more playful than your customers expect.

Each of these types of Talk Triggers is talkable. One isn’t more advantageous than the other. However, one might be a better fit for your business or for your brand, and that’s a key ingredient of creating a Talk Trigger that will have word of mouth success. Let’s take a look at each one.

Be More Human Than Your Customers Expect


These days, empathy from business is in short supply for two main reasons. The first is empathy requires inconsistency and listening. It requires interacting with customers as individuals. This approach, by definition, drives up the per-interaction cost every time a business intersects with the customer. The second reason is that empathetic interactions means that employees must have permission to work outside of a script. For many companies, the concern of risk involved is too great.

This is why, when businesses choose the opposite approach, being empathetic and human can have a massive word of mouth impact.

Be More Useful Than Your Customers Expect


Not all businesses and organizations have the heart to be disproportionately empathetic, and that’s OK. For those companies, it may make more sense create a word of mouth engine that is more logical and useful. In 2013, I wrote Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help, Not Hype that showed businesses how to attract customers by providing online content that informs and educates. This idea can work as a Talk Trigger, too.

This Talk Trigger archetype is most-likely to be noticed in an industry or business-setting that is not known for being helpful or making customers’ lives easier. Being different than what’s expected creates a Talk Trigger and helps your business solve the customer experience formula.

Be More Generous Than Your Customers Expect


Consumers are besieged by companies giving them less for the same price, or worse, for a higher price. We are surrounded by this phenomenon, also known as “shrinkflation.” According to a study by the National Statistics in the United Kingdom, 2,529 products decreased in size between 2012 and 2017. The ubiquity of shrinkflation is why showing your customers the opposite, showing generosity, can be an effective Talk Trigger.

Generosity creates conversation because customers are stunned that, as a business, you’ve decided to give something away… for free.

Be More Responsive Than Your Customers Expect


Forty-one percent of consumers say that when they contact a business, getting their issue quickly is the most important element of that customer service interaction. Nine out of ten American consumers refuse to wait on hold for more than five minutes when they’ve called a business.

Speed matters, but it’s also a moving target. What was considered “fast” in 2000 is now slow. What was considered “fast” in 2010 is table stakes for most businesses in 2019. This relentlessness of the changing pace and expectations around speed and responsiveness means there’s an exceptionally high standard for a company to make this a Talk Trigger.

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It is operationally difficult for a company to create a speed-based Talk Trigger, but when one does (and many have), there’s an extraordinary payoff.

Be More Playful Than Your Customers Expect


When asked to describe a business, most customers don’t think to mention the word “fun” or “amusing.” Most businesses are difficult to describe because there are a limited number of synonyms for the word “fine.”

Like the other Talk Trigger archetypes on this list, this fact presents an opportunity for businesses. The expectation is that your business will be vanilla, which means adding a little flair will create chatter.

Whichever Talk Trigger archetype is right for your business, we’re trying to do the same thing. We’re creating a circumstance where your customers say these words, “You won’t believe what happened to me when [FILL IN THE BLANK]…”

Your customer experience is what fills in that blank.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

New Perspectives on Software-Defined WAN

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The integration of Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) with cloud management functionality into the Cisco family of routers in 2018 excited many of our customers. Instantly over a million installed Cisco ISR and ASR routers could be upgraded to become SD-WAN capable, improving application performance for a distributed workforce, store outlets, and branch offices. SD-WAN lowers the cost of branch connectivity to not only the enterprise data center but also IaaS and SaaS application platforms. Later in 2018, we addressed the evolving Cloud Edge—the intersection between security, networking, and the cloud—by adding full-stack security to Cisco SD-WAN. This brings flexible, secure connectivity to distributed organizations with multicloud environments by making every WAN device software-defined and secure.

In short, SD-WAN has arrived and organizations are deploying it worldwide. So what can we look forward to as this technology enters its next phase? Let me preview some of the ways we are working to bring even more control, functionality, and flexibility to SD-WAN.

Turning the Internet into a Manageable and Secure WAN


One of the key features of SD-WAN is the ability to use multiple connectivity options simultaneously to always have the most reliable or appropriate connection for application Quality of Experience. Specifically, you can choose among the options available for the location: MPLS, Ethernet, internet, leased lines, DSL, LTE networks, and soon 5G. It’s this flexibility to choose the most cost-effective and best-performing connectivity option available to provide the ideal application experience for each location of a distributed workforce. For example, need to ensure that Office 365 Cloud is performing as needed at branch offices? Instead of relying on an expensive MPLS connection backhauling to headquarters for connections to multicloud applications, use a secure Direct Internet connection to the Microsoft Cloud, which is continuously monitored by SD-WAN to meet performance SLAs.

What’s next? The ability to manage end-to-end connectivity from enterprise to 5G endpoints and back will bring greater levels of control over data traffic and application performance. The key to extending intent-based networking controls from enterprise to 5G cellular endpoints is network slicing in the 5G channels in conjunction with micro-segmentation in the enterprise. 5G slicing enables the carrier to separate traffic into unique partitions, keeping sensitive data separate from normal traffic. The technique enables 5G providers to maintain the necessary service level agreements for low-latency traffic, and create an end-to-end virtual network encompassing compute and storage functions.

Wired and wireless Enterprise networks are already segmented to channel traffic according to type (sensitive/video/IoT), priority, and latency. Today with 4G LTE, the enterprise segmented traffic destined for a cellular endpoint would move onto the cellular network with few controls over how the data is segmented and managed. The new 5G networks can be sliced to match the security and performance requirements of the segments in the enterprise, thus maintaining the original policies from end-to-end. A security policy, for example, that is established in the enterprise network will follow a person’s device as it transitions from the enterprise to a 5G network slice. Cisco SD-WAN will be able to take full advantage of network slicing in 5G to meet the security and segmentation needs of enterprise networks.

Virtualizing Network Functions for the SD-Branch


Bringing the focus back to ensuring robust branch connectivity, we are enhancing the functions that run on the local edge routers and appliances along with the core SD-WAN software suite. Virtualizing network functions (VNF) increases local performance and minimizes backhaul traffic to corporate data centers DMZs or cloud platforms. Many functions are being virtualized on edge routers and appliances—such as optimization and intelligent caching, application-aware firewalls, intrusion detection, and URL filtering. And, of course, SD-WAN’s full security stack supports compliance, direct internet access, direct cloud access, and guest access.

Virtualizing critical functions and running them at the cloud edge—in the branch office, store, or clinic—improves both the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of distributed computing and a remote workforce. VNFs can also be run on cloud platforms and colocation facilities to spread the functionality over multiple remote locations. For example, by consolidating VNFs on a provider’s IaaS platform—a virtual network hub—IT can reduce management costs while being able to spin up or down new virtual machines as needed to accommodate workloads and connectivity for a group of regional branches. More on this in a future blog post.

Improving Application Quality of Experience with WAN Optimization


WAN optimization techniques have been around since the early days of frame relay and MPLS. The main goal of dedicated optimization appliances was to maximize the throughput on these relatively expensive circuits. As new technologies such as VoIP and video became critical to business, optimizing the circuits to provide the necessary Quality of Service grew in importance. But as direct internet connections became the rule rather than the exception for accessing popular SaaS and cloud apps, a much more granular, flexible, and automated WAN optimization process is required. Thus SD-WAN was designed to meet the new application QoE demands.

There are several optimization methods that Cisco SD-WAN currently employs to improve the QoE for cloud and SaaS applications accessed by the distributed workforce. Currently, Cisco SD-WAN monitors the available links for latency, packet loss, and jitter that affect throughput and performance. By dynamically measuring these characteristics and comparing them with service levels that specific applications require, the SD-WAN can automatically decide which circuits to use for individual applications. VoIP and video are two applications that require specific levels of latency and low jitter to perform correctly. While a SaaS application may be more tolerant of jitter, it still requires a guaranteed level of throughput to provide satisfactory performance. SD-WAN automates the monitoring and selection of appropriate paths to maintain expected QoE for each type of application.

Supplementing these existing performance attributes of SD-WAN are new controls for TCP optimization, forwarding correction, and packet duplication. SD-WAN provides metrics that aid in fine tuning the optimal TCP congestion algorithm to improve application performance. For example, the Cisco SD-WAN TCP optimization engine, a new layer in the Cisco SD-WAN stack, helps maintain superior application performance in high latency networks such as satellite, transcontinental, and other types of circuits prone to high-loss and high-latency.

To better tackle lossy networks, even for non-TCP applications, the Cisco SD-WAN optimization stack includes a Forward Error Correction (FEC) mechanism. FEC improves application experience by using additional parity packets to protect against loss. In situations when the loss percentage is very high, the Cisco SD-WAN optimization stack maintains performance by deploying a Packet Duplication feature. These optimization features help mitigate packet loss over noisy channels, thereby maintaining high application QoE for voice and video in particular. They are being integrated into the Cisco SD-WAN stack in upcoming IOS-XE releases. All three optimization techniques are managed via Cisco vManage and vSmart virtual network functions.

Edge-to-Cloud Protection with Integrated SD-WAN Security Stack


Securing branch to cloud to data center traffic, in all its permutations, is a key strength of SD-WAN. Last year Cisco added a virtualized security stack to provide multiple levels of protection at the cloud edge that includes:
  • Application-Aware Enterprise Firewall with the ability to identify, permit, or block over 1400 applications.
  • Intrusion Protection System (IPS) using Snort, the most widely deployed IPS engine in the world, to deliver real-time network defense against malware intrusions.
  • URL-Filtering with advanced reporting on over 80 URL categories, providing IT with greater visibility and reducing risk with usage policies customized to an organization’s unique needs.
  • DNS/web-layer security with integrated connections to Cisco Umbrella to prevent enterprise branch users, guests and mobile users from accessing inappropriate internet content and known malicious sites that might contain malware and other security risks.

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Cisco SD-WAN Security Today

Coming soon to a Cisco edge router near you is Cisco Advanced Malware Protection (AMP) Threat Grid operating as a virtual network function (VNF). The additional AMP-focused layer includes a context-aware knowledgebase of known malware infectious agents. Cisco AMP Threat Grid identifies and alerts IT staff of discovered infections, and provides information on the malware method of attack, a measure of the threat it poses, and how to defend against it. Operating at the branch edge, with the SD-WAN VNF security stack, AMP Threat Grid provides a layer of malware protection, examining all incoming and outgoing traffic, ensuring that malware originating from direct internet connections can’t infect branch devices. Similarly, malware originating from the branch can’t hide in traffic outbound to the enterprise network or cloud applications.

Threat insights exposed with AMP Threat Grid are viewable through the Cisco vManage Portal where administrators can also initiate protective actions such as segmenting infected devices from the rest of the network. The vManage Portal gives network admins a view across the entire WAN, displaying all suspected infections, malware type, and paths of infection through the network. To augment security threat intelligence, the VNF instances of AMP Threat Grid working at the local edges are continuously connected to both AMP Cloud and Threat Grid Cloud, both managed by Cisco Talos Security.

AMP Cloud and Threat Grid Cloud collect malware and suspicious file data from Cisco installations around the world, maintaining a Malicious File Hash catalogue of suspected infections and keeping the information up to date on all Cisco routers as well as third-party security tools via an open API. For example, API integration of AMP Cloud and Threat Grid Cloud with application-aware, threat-focused firewalls provides rapid identification of suspected malware files with automated sandboxing of unknown files in the Threat Grid Cloud for additional analysis.

SD-WAN Continues to Improve Branch Connectivity, Application QoE, and Security


Cisco SD-WAN is foundational for a new software-defined network architecture. As organizations become more distributed, the workforce needs new ways to connect edge to cloud, data center to branch, while ensuring a high Quality of Experience for cloud and SaaS applications wherever they are needed. Cisco is at the forefront of this new wave of distributed connectivity, continuously refining our SD-WAN software and security stack to meet the needs of the digital enterprise.