Innovation and customer excellence go hand in hand; you can’t pursue one without the other. While innovation typically involves cutting edge technology and out of the box thinking, it starts with seeing a customer problem and finding a way to support them in a way that is simple yet efficient.

A focus on innovation and customer excellence is part of Cisco’s DNA, and recently, we were recognized for this as members of our team embarked on a project, created a tool, and ultimately, made life easier for many of our customers.

Before we dive into it, let’s talk about the problem: Anyone who buys software knows that it needs to be updated every now and then. In organizations where the software has customizations or where other tools/solutions rely on the software, upgrades are often put off for fear of disrupting business as usual. This is the problem we solved, and we won a Stevie Award for it.

This is the story of Project FreshLife and AURA (a tool), which support Cisco’s DNA-Center (DNAC).

For those that aren’t in the know, DNAC is an SDN controller for our Intent Based Networking (IBN) solution and provides end-to-end automation and assurance capabilities to the customers and has evolved through more than 50 software versions since its launch in 2017.

Regular upgrade to newer versions ensures that the customer gets access to the latest features, enjoy a better user experience, are able to fix bugs, gain support for new devices, and more. The upgrade process, however, is cumbersome and involves the entire network, which is challenging for customers sometimes depending on their deployment.

Project FreshLife provides a proactive and simplified upgrade journey for DNAC customers with the help of AURA (Audit Upgrade Readiness Analyzer), a tool developed by Cisco’s engineering and customer experience teams.

AURA is a completely automated tool that performs detailed health-check and audit of Cisco DNAC (and of the Cisco SD-Access network more broadly). The team that thought of this innovation started work on the project before Covid-19 forced everyone to work from home, however, at the height of the pandemic, FreshLife and AURA really made a deep impact on customers across the world as they needed a solution that allowed them to upgrade seamlessly in order to keep their defenses strong.

AURA checks the current scale of a client’s network to validate against DNAC data sheet limits. The tool executes more than 100 tests on Cisco DNA-Center and Cisco SD-Access network in less than 30 minutes, detecting potential issues that exist in an existing deployment. It scans through the network, performs scale-related tests for various parameters, and generates a PDF report with self-explanatory errors and warnings.

From small wins to big victories

Cisco DNAC is developed on a microservices based architecture made up of 130+ micro-services administered by Docker and Kubernetes engines. This makes troubleshooting complex and requires advance skills in various areas like Linux, Kubernetes, Docker, Networking, Security etc. Cisco SD-Access is a campus network solution automated using Cisco DNAC. Since the campus network solution is very different from traditional 3-tier campus networks, network administrator and support engineers are often overwhelmed by the scope of a typical upgrade task.

Project FreshLife and AURA provide much needed help to client organizations using DNAC and Cisco SD-Access, enabling them to keep their software updated at all times.

Being automated, AURA saves 4 to 5 hours of manual effort. The PDF report it generates is easy-to-understand and paints a holistic picture of the health of the network which can be used for quick diagnosis of issues and ensures seamless upgrades no matter how complex the deployment.

While the project is a roaring success today, like most other innovations, it started small. The team identified the problem customers face, felt that a solution could be developed, and took it upon themselves to build a prototype in their own time to showcase the idea to a wider group within the company. Slowly, the project gained momentum, was provided with additional resources, and received the support it needed to finally take off.

AURA is readily available for download on GitHub and easy to execute – AURA cisco.com page. Currently, there are about 200+ clones and an average of 1,000+ views per month. Cisco about 1,000+ customers using the tool so far to save a significant amount of time and effort on their DNAC upgrade journey. It also resulted in a reduction in service requests from customers who confidently took on an update.

What our engineering and customer experience teams constantly hear from clients about AURA and project FreshLife is that they are surprised by the number of checks that are carried out automatically through the solution – and the pace at which those checks grow. According to the core team that led this project, the tool’s simplicity and humble beginnings helped ensure it does one job, does it well, and scales as quickly as needed to support every customer, irrespective of their size or complexity.

Given the success of the tool, the product team is working on fleshing out AURA even further to add more features and capabilities and incorporate it into the DNAC solution itself – indicating a huge win not just for the team but also customers who put their faith in Cisco and believe that we’ll keep delivering new customer-focused solutions time and time again.

Many congratulations to the team on bringing home a Stevie Award. It’s a win that must be cherished, but I know my team, and their biggest joy is delighting customers and making them feel like the superstars of their network and IT ecosystems.