Whenever a company like Cisco makes a multi-billion dollar acquisition, it pays to take notice. But when that acquisition represents a departure from a long-held business model, it really pays to take notice.
Cisco, of course, announced last week that it is paying about $3.7 billion for AppDynamics, a cloud application and business monitoring developer that seeks to improve business outcomes by targeting the application layer, not infrastructure. The intent is to allow the enterprise to break down the silos that prevent applications and data from working together toward common goals and to streamline the management and resource configuration processes that support modern workflows.
To be sure, this is not the first time Cisco has ventured onto the application layer. Its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) allows organizations to build an application policy engine that coordinates activity across software-defined networks (SDNs). This not only reduces development time and complexity but enables continuous change and dynamic security capabilities across flexible, distributed data environments. And as ENP’s Sean Michael Kerner recently pointed out, Cisco has developed a homegrown app management solution called Tetration, which senior vice president and general manager Rowan Trollope says will likely complement the AppDynamics suite with granular monitoring and deep-dive performance analysis.
The main benefit that AppDynamics brings to the table is intelligence. The company’s App iQ platformis built on six key intelligence engines that allow organizations to consolidate legacy, monolithic application environments into a cohesive architecture that drives business processes and enhances user experiences. A pair of overarching engines, Enterprise iQ and Signal iQ, oversee functions like access and control, policy management and data ingestion, while subordinate engines oversee mapping, microservices, baseline performance and diagnostics. Working in concert, the engines provide real-time visibility and intelligent, dynamic coordination across network, security and application layers.
Exactly how this will be folded into the Cisco management stack is still unclear. According to Rob Salvagno, vice president of corporate business development, the move is intended to reflect the broader transformation from IT’s traditional role as a builder and maintainer of infrastructure to more of a steward of the applications and services that contribute to core business functions. In this world, visibility is key, and end-to-end insight across multiple, disparate environments is essential to maintain the level of performance organizations will need to compete in a digital economy. For Cisco, the shift from infrastructure to more software-centric solutions provides a more predictable, recurring revenue stream.
Make no mistake, though, this is a big change for Cisco and its customers. In the past, networking was primarily about bandwidth and throughput, and the top prize went to whoever could get the bits from one place to another quickest and at the lowest price point.
These days, the quality of those bits and the ultimate purpose they serve is deeply important to users, developers, line-of-business executives and the vendors that serve them — so much so that systems up and down the data stack must become more engaged in the actual work that is being done rather than the dispassionate transfer of electrons.
For networking companies like Cisco, that means more development of management- and application-level software and less emphasis on the powerhouse switching platforms that it has defined the network for a generation.
Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for Enterprise Networking Planet and IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.