Cisco Wants Nexus Dashboard To Be Yet Another Single Pane of Glass
Cisco presented its Nexus Dashboard Platform at Tech Field Day 22 as a potential solution to a siloed operations tools problem. Cisco contends that there are a lot of different roles (they refer to ‘personas’) in a modern Network Operations Centre (NOC) that are all trying to do slightly different things.
Network Architects are looking for deployment errors, asking about security and compliance; network operators are checking which sites are affected, or if this even is a network issue at all (it’s always the network, right?); IT is asking for changes to get approved and wants to know who is doing the work; sysadmins are asking someone to check the network and want to get visibility of end-to-end network connectivity.
Cisco wants us to have a unified view for everyone in a single place, but the Nexus Dashboard is apparently only for the network. Maybe. Cisco says you should use Intersight for getting a single view of your compute infrastructure, though there are apparently connections between the products.
The wonderful thing about single-pane-of-glass systems is that there are so many to choose from.
Cisco says you can customise Nexus Dashboard to get your own unique views, and that’s certainly handy, though it brings the One Tool For Everything concept into tension with individual needs.
By customising something—setting certain shell command aliases, picking a Winamp skin, changing your game character’s hair, or even putting stickers on your laptop—you can take something mass produced and make it more personal. More like something crafted by your own hands. Personalizing something makes it even more yours than a generic product that you simply have in your possession; it is now also unique.
But there’s a challenge here: how much personalization or customization should be possible? The more modifications you make, the harder it is for the vendor to support you. Some of your modifications might break the base product because you didn’t really know what you were doing. Why should the vendor pay for your errors? And so we get Warranty Void If Removed stickers everywhere.
Figuring out where the line is between cosmetic modifications, functional enhancements, and accidental (or purposeful) breakage is an important part of product design.
We actually want customers to feel a sense of ownership of these products, because they are more likely to remain customers. Magic the Gathering head designer Mark Rosewater had some excellent things to say about customer ownership of the game in his talk at GDC 2016 and some of the challenges involved.
The difficulty for Cisco is in figuring out who Nexus Dashboard is for. It says it’s trying to provide a single tool for everyone from Network Architects, Operators, Sysadmins, and IT generally, and yet there are other tools they’ll also need to use, also made by Cisco.
The result is something that feels a bit nowhere. The lack of focus on a specific audience means it’s trying to appeal to people with different needs, and ends up being a bit generic and boring as a result. It’s not bad but as Rosewater pointed out “if everyone likes it, but no one loves it, it’ll fail.” Nexus Dashboard just doesn’t quite feel compelling enough for me yet.
I’d rather see Cisco clearly specify that Nexus Dashboard is for network admins and operators. They can use the Dashboard to provide views to their customers in other teams, either management or technical, and perhaps it can integrate into the broader ecosystem of tools that their specific enterprise has chosen (which could well include other Cisco tools like Intersight). Then I’d have a better idea of who and what Nexus Dashboard is for as well as where it fits into the bigger picture.
That picture isn’t clear to me at the moment.