Cisco's DevNet Comes of Age

I've been following Cisco's developer efforts since the company acquired Metreos in 2006 and kicked off the Cisco Technology Developer Program, or CTDP. The ensuing years brought failed attempt after failed attempt to build up developer environment, so by the time Cisco launched its DevNet program in 2014, my first reaction was to chortle, with the thought, "Here we go again."

However, four years later, I admit to having been wrong.

Suzie Wee, Cisco

DevNet has flourished, as evident at this week's Cisco Live customer and partner event (see related No Jitter post, "Cisco Opens Up on Programmable Future"). CEO Chuck Robbins gave a nod to the DevNet community during his opening day keynote, and DevNet CTO Susie Wee, the mastermind behind this incarnation of Cisco's developer efforts, discussed the state of the program from the mainstage on day two.

DevNet Success Factors

During her presentation, Wee proudly reported that DevNet just hit a significant milestone, with 500,000 registered users -- both application developers as well as a significant number of network engineers who are using the programmability to do their jobs better. For example, instead of using a command-line interface (CLI) to do something like create a VLAN, a network engineer could instead set up an API call. This is an important difference, as an API call is faster, can be embedded into applications, allows for the use of standard orchestration tools, and removes all the human errors plaguing companies today.

Some of DevNet's success is attributable to the fact that Cisco is building all new products with APIs. The rise of software-defined networking ushered in a new era for networking, and almost all new network devices, from Cisco and its competitors, have exposed APIs to make the infrastructure more programmable. If Cisco required developers to write custom scripts that needed to infuse CLI commands, it'd have a hard time getting their interest. So, it's building its products with programmability in mind.

The other factor contributing to DevNet program's early success is its assumptions that most network engineers have never programmed a lick in their lives and that app developers know nothing about networking. The intersection of networking infrastructure and software development can be intimidating on both sides, and DevNet has programs to address each.

For example, network engineers can work through an introduction to programming module to learn the very, very basics of programming -- and then make an API call. This introductory course has been, and remains, the most popular module on the DevNet portal, Mandy Whaley, DevNet director of developer experience, said during a briefing with industry analysts. Not every network engineer is going to be a developer, but all of them need to be software-fluent, and Cisco has structured DevNet to help them get there in a non-intimidating way, she said.

Similarly, Cisco offers DevNet courses that introduce networking to application developers who've probably never worked with any kind of network protocols. The network can be a valuable source of data for next-generation applications to use, but developers need to be made aware of what's there and how to make use of the data, protocols, and features.

Continue to next page: Next Steps for DevNet