Cisco evolves network and collaboration tools critical for hybrid work

Cisco evolves network and collaboration tools critical for hybrid work

Tech giant brings ThousandEyes agents to Webex collaboration platform.

Todd Nightingale (Cisco)

Todd Nightingale (Cisco)

Credit: Cisco

The growing impact of hybrid work is resulting in a reassessment of the IT network infrastructure including the ability to glean analytic details from remote workers and ensure collaboration assets are working properly.

Going forward, organisations should expect Cisco products that will help to further lock down networks and support application-monitoring and collaboration environments for hybrid workers, Todd Nightingale, the company’s executive vice president and general manager for enterprise networking cloud told Network World head of his keynote at this week’s Cisco WebexOne 2021 virtual conference.

“It is becoming more important every day for mission-critical remote and hybrid users to have the network and collaboration tools -- which are now the lifeline for many businesses -- running optimally,” Nightingale said.

Part of the effort to help enterprises adopt to the growing hybrid environment are new ThousandEyes agents for Cisco’s Webex collaboration platform.

Announced this week, the ThousandEyes Webex Agents are now integrated into Webex data centers and provide bi-directional visibility into the Webex environment, giving the IT team visibility between users locations and Webex services.

“With this extended visibility, your IT team can see every network node along the forward and reverse paths that have the potential to impact user connections with Webex services, giving them the insight to optimise performance and ensure exceptional user experiences,” Cisco wrote in a blog detailing the new agents.

Cisco bought ThousandEyes in 2020 and has implemented the vendor's cloud-based software package that analyses the performance of local- and wide-area networks as well as cloud and collaboration-application performance -- across its product portfolio.

In addition, the new agents will be able to fuse information with Cisco’s Meraki Insight management package so customers can monitor the performance of web applications and WAN Links on their network and identify if any issues are likely being caused by the network or application, Nightingale said. Meraki Insight uses AI to automate root cause analysis and define specific remediation steps to help IT manage quality-of-experience on Webex.

By utilising ThousandEyes’ world-wide system of software and agents, it provides insights into cloud, enterprise and endpoint services to help network, application, and cloud teams work together to quickly isolate and resolve problems, Cisco stated.

“The package gives organisations complete end-to-end monitoring of the network and applications and ensures customers get the best possible communications experience no matter where they are,” Nightingale said.

Application performance can also be addressed via Cisco’s AppDynamics platform. Earlier this year Cisco integrated ThousandEyes’ technology into its AppDynamics dashboard to correlate application and business-performance data with network- and internet-performance metrics to quickly determine whether external dependencies or internet vulnerabilities caused a problem, Cisco stated.

“In a hybrid work environment, the cloud is your new data centre, the internet is your network, and SaaS is your new app stack,” Cisco stated. “The future of work is replacing real-time, face-to-face onsite interactions using virtual team connectivity with the realisation that a one-size-fits-all work experience is not an optimum post-pandemic approach.”

The new agents were part of a larger Webex announcement that included other enhancements to the collaboration family.

The company added a feature that equalises voices so all participants in a conference call can be heard, regardless of how far they are from a conference device.

Cisco is also signing up more than 60 partners to integrate their apps so users can access them within Webex. This includes Smartsheet, Hacker Rank, Thrive Reset, Miro, Mural, and more which are available directly in Webex now.

Webex-device camera intelligence will boost visuals of in-room attendees’ facial expressions and body language. Further enhancements in early 2022 are expected to improve the view of people in meeting rooms, including showing conference-room participants in individual boxes.

Another new feature, Webex Whiteboarding lets users create, find, edit and share whiteboards with any meeting participant -- including people outside of your organisation -- using any device, whether mobile, tablet, laptop, or touch-enabled Webex devices.

Keeping with the Webex theme, Cisco has added a number of new all-in-one desktop devices -- the Desk and Desk Pro -- aimed a hybrid workers. The devices include display, camera, speakers, and whiteboard stylus.

On the networking side, a number of packages aimed at hybrid workers including the Meraki Z3C Teleworker Gateway, a combination firewall, VPN gateway, and router. With it, administrators can deploy network services including VoIP and remote endpoints with automatic, zero-touch provisioning. It also supports an integrated LTE modem for cellular failover.

Other technologies for remote workers include home SD-WAN routers with a wireless connection for back up, and Cisco’s Umbrella security support to let users access applications remotely and securely.

Cisco recently rolled out a Hybrid Work Index, which the company says will be updated quarterly to gauge how worker and technology habits are evolving as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Cisco says the index gleans information from anonymised customer data culled from a number of its products, including Meraki networking, ThousandEyes internet visibility, Webex collaboration, and security platforms Talos, Duo and Umbrella. The index also incorporates third-party survey data from more than 39,000 respondents across 34 countries.

Some of the Hybrid Work Index findings from the October index includes that enterprise customers view collaboration apps as the most critical application type for hybrid work success. They are now the most closely monitored application type globally, surpassing secure-access and productivity-application monitoring, which were more heavily monitored at the onset of the pandemic.

In addition, home networks are now one of the most critical parts of the enterprise network. Growth in teleworker devices has been twice that of office-based routers, showing that business-class connectivity is expanding significantly toward the home.

Meanwhile, devices connecting to office-based Wi-Fi networks increased 61 per cent in comparison to six months ago, led by the higher education, professional services and hospitality sectors.

Pre-pandemic, people used mobile devices nine per cent of the time to connect to their meetings -- now that number is 27 per cent.

In addition, remote employees are working using multiple remote and mobile devices, which expands the threat landscape. Work that happened primarily on managed endpoints is now happening on unmanaged ones that connect directly to the Internet to access cloud applications.

“Collaboration tools found renewed importance during COVID-19 for their role in ensuring the productivity of suddenly remote teams,” said Christopher Trueman, principal research analyst at Gartner, in a recent statement.

“As many organisations shift to a long-term hybrid workforce model, cloud-based, personal, and team productivity technologies, along with collaboration tools, will form the core of a series of new work hubs that meet the requirements of various remote and hybrid workers.”

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