“AI for IT” is Real and Gaining Momentum Quickly

From Marketing Slogan to Industry Trend…

I will be first to admit that marketing can sometimes get ahead of reality. It is our job to create a story that paints an appealing vision of the future, knowing that it may take a little while for engineering to actually “catch up”. And when multiple vendors start screaming the same buzzwords from the top of multiple different mountains, the line between product and PowerPoint can become a bit blurred and confusing.

Why do I bring this up? About three years ago, I coined the phrase “AI is in the Air” to differentiate the Mist platform from incumbent wireless networking solutions. As the tagline suggests, the goal was to highlight how Mist Is the first vendor to use AI in the core to make Wi-Fi more predictable, reliable, and measurable.

(Fun fact: I came up with the tagline after seeing this ad for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.)

Eventually, we made a strategic decision to broaden this focus. Our customers want an end-to-end solution for automation and insight that extends from the wireless LAN, through the wired LAN, across the WAN and even into the security domain. As we began to work with other vendors to deliver on this vision, we coined a new term to describe this broader industry movement – “AI for IT.”

For a while, we were the only networking vendor espousing the vision of a new AI-driven IT infrastructure with these slogans. As a pioneer, we faced some head winds as people asked questions like “Is it shipping?”, “Is it really AI?”, and “How does it really benefit customers?”. Now, most of the industry is espousing the notion of AI and have launched some rudimentary products, so we have a different challenge – people now ask “How is it different?” Below are several points that answer all of these questions.

Yes, Virginia, AI for IT is real. There is a lot of debate as to whether the different techniques used by vendors can really be called “AI” or whether the claims are just being made from marketing teams gone amuck. In the case of Mist, we have a wide array of examples that check multiple boxes. For example:

  • Numerous data science algorithms are used to simplify operations and troubleshooting. For example, mutual information is used to classify and measure traffic for service levels, and Bayesian Inference is used for predictive analytics to determine the most likely root cause of issues. And we are leveraging the ARIMA (AutoRegressive Integrated Moving Average) time series model to detect anomalies in service levels and proactively report and drive faster resolution.
  • Supervised machine learning correlates events for Wi-Fi troubleshooting, and unsupervised machine learning is used for calculating location using virtual Bluetooth LE In addition, neural networks (ie deep learning) are used for anomaly detection.
  • Reinforcement Learning is leveraged by our AI Radio Resource Management in order to automatically optimize channel and power assignments by learning how these variables impact the user experience.
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a key element of Mist’s virtual assistant, Marvis, which enables customers to engage with the Mist platform in a manner similar to a human RF expert.

The above techniques have been shipping in our product for years, and deployed live in over 300 customer account worldwide, including 3 of the Fortune 10, 7 of the top 40 retailers, and leading hospitals, universities, carriers, and more. This is not PowerPoint. It is production code that is helping the top companies in the world up their wireless game. When we say “AI is in the Air”, we are not blowing hot air.

  • There is an ecosystem building around “AI for IT”. There is an increasing number of vendors who are partnering with Mist to bring AI automation and insight across the stack. Last year, for example, we announced partnerships with VMware (integrating with the VMware SD-WAN by VeloCloud™, Palo Alto Networks, Verizon, and Juniper Networks. There is a movement towards widespread automation and insight in IT, leveraging open systems that allow best-of-breed deployments. And we are already seeing customers deploy these AI for IT solutions today, with Dartmouth College having deployed a joint AI-driven solution from Mist and Juniper Networks last year. Soon you can expect to see standards bodies taking up the cause, too. There is a lot happening on this front, so stay tuned…
  • AI for IT just got a big mega boost. Last week, Juniper announced intent to acquire Mist for $405M. Both companies recognize the value of AI for IT, and want to funnel more resources into accelerating this industry transition and leading the charge towards a new era of IT. There is now even more wood behind the arrow, so to speak, which will help propel the AI for IT movement forward with our partners and customers.

These are exciting times for the IT industry as real companies are putting time, money and resources into making AI for IT happen. And it is especially exciting for me, as what started with some simple marketing slogans has turned into so much more.