Cisco takes on service provider network automation with Crosswork platform

Prudential HK has unveiled an automated hospital claims system and new AI chatbots (image Just_Super / iStockPhoto)
Cisco is cutting its teeth in the service provider network automation game. (Image: Just_Super / iStockPhoto)

Cisco is taking a stab at the emerging network automation opportunity with the introduction of its Crosswork platform that it says is designed to improve how global service providers run their large-scale networks.

By extending capabilities of the Cisco Network Services Orchestrator (NSO), the Crosswork Network Automation solution is a closed-loop multivendor, multidomain automation solution, with service orchestration and automation applications that support third-party solutions with open APIs.

Closed simply means that problems can be detected and solved without human intervention.

RELATED: Cisco says service provider focus will center on software, capex performance and next-gen platforms

While Cisco talks a good game here, the key proof point will be in ensuring that the company actually gets out and signs agreements with other vendors.

Jonathan Davidson

“It’s the first closed loop automation platform that embraces multivendor networks,” said Jonathan Davidson, SVP and general manager for service provider networking for Cisco, in an interview with FierceTelecom. “Closed loop means if I see a problem in the infrastructure, I can use software to detect it and mitigate it and get that infrastructure back up and running.”

The vendor is offering five new product sets focused on automation:

  • Cisco Change Automation: By enabling large scale change and closed-loop control, Cisco can address automated operations applications.
  • Cisco Health Insights: To monitor and optimize the network, Cisco will offer customers a series of smart sensors, smart alerts and smart remediation.
  • Cisco Data Platform: The data platform offers an OpenSource and commercial-class data analytics platform.
  • Cisco Network Insights: Cloud-based analytics solution for solving large-scale routing issues.
  • Cisco Situation Manager: This element leverages machine Learning-based event correlation with social operations.

Cisco said that the product portfolio offers service providers a single point of integration with zero-touch telemetry, machine learning intuition, open APIs and automated actions that offer a simpler experience. Cisco is backing the Crosswork platform with its Services unit that it says will assist customers with planning, customization and implementation.


What’s driving the need for greater network automation is the growing number of devices and connections that run on service provider networks. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index Forecast, 2016-2021, an expected 27 billion devices will run on service provider networks by 2021, meaning that service providers will need lifecycle network automation and intent-based networking to help networks predict change and react in near real time.

Cisco said that when it implements its automation solution, service providers will gain a 70% improvement in operational efficiency, 30% revenue uplift and a 40% improvement in customer satisfaction.

Davidson said the platform is focused on helping service providers overcome various issues in automating their networks to they can be more responsive to customers’ desire for new products and remediating problems.

“We bucket all of the issues service providers face in automating their networks into to macro trends,” Davidson said. “There’s time to value, which is the time when a provider picks up an idea and then they can start billing for that idea. The second one is time to remediation, which is the time to detect the problem, time to know what caused that problem and time to repair the problem.”  

Davidson added that the platform will “dramatically reduce the time to value and the time to remediation.”

Already, the new platform has been adopted by Telstra and other providers to automate networks and explore how to effectively extract and manage huge amounts of data to help their networks react to common events and impending security threats.

“Our work with Cisco to reinvent our network operations through orchestration, automation and advanced data models offers us valuable insight for mass data collection, applying analytics and machine learning, and taking decisive action through automation,” said David Robertson, director of network transport and routing engineering for Telstra, in a release.

Three-pillar service

Cisco is taking a three-pillar service approach with the Crosswork platform:

Mass awareness: This is focused on unlocking what Cisco is the power of data by centralizing it into a common data lake whether it’s in a device or an EMS.

Augmentation: By using analytics and machine learning, the Crosswork platform will augment that data.

Control: Cisco will then take that augmented data and put it into a platform that will enable the service provider can take proactive control.  

By developing these pillars, Davidson says that Cisco can enable self-healing networks.

“At the end of the day, our goal and our customer’s goal is that this portfolio enables our customers to get to self-healing and self-optimizing infrastructure without service interruption or eventually without human intervention,” Davidson said.

One of the key components to Cisco’s Crosswork’s approach is its network services orchestrator, which is related to intent-driven service networking. Intent-based networking allows IT to automate intent, making it possible to manage millions of devices in minutes—helping businesses navigate the expanding technology landscape.

“Intent-driven networking is not new to Cisco, but added components related to mass scale, multivendor networks which leverages common intelligence with common intelligence with customized learning that can also evolve and extend over time,” Davidson said.  

Network awareness

To make service providers more aware about how their networks are functioning, Cisco is already offering service providers its Network Services Orchestrator (NSO).

The second piece of the platform will leverage Cisco’s data platform that’s based on Platform for Network Data Analytics (PNDA) specification. Cisco has taken that software and added in collection service.

While Cisco could not reveal any specific customers, the company did confirm one Tier 1 U.S. provider is using the platform currently to enable self-healing networks.  

“We actually have a Tier 1 North American-based provider that’s using the platform to visualize all of the data that’s been trapped historically inside their infrastructure,” Davidson said.

No less important is ensuring quality of experience (QoE). Cisco is addressing this issue with its cloud insights service that enables customers to solve their routing challenges by increasing their mean time to know.

“We have seen over the past year a number of global providers caused significant outages for their customers because of their routing topology challenges,” Davidson said. “We believe through this focus on a cloud-based approach would enable them to improve their time to remediation.”

Additionally, Cisco is enabling customers to solve problems by applying machine learning by correlating those events that are inside the network infrastructure. While service providers can correlate issues like a fiber cut with an NMS system, the issue is being able to connect that issue to an application.

“Being able to correlate the fact you lost connectivity to an application or your application just slowed down because you lost connectivity to a key servers in a data center,” Davidson said. “You can now correlate all of those things together using natural language processing and machine learning and enable a social aspect to enable service providers to share information to reduce that time to know and time to repair.”