Ralph Riley (left), Director of Broadcast IT Systems for WWE, discusses the value of network observability at Cisco Live.

Jun 05 2024

Cisco Live 2024: How Network Visibility Supports Digital Resilience

With Cisco ThousandEyes, WWE and Room & Board can identify and solve network problems in a hurry.

As director of broadcast IT systems for WWE, the entertainment company dominant in the world of professional wrestling, Ralph Riley sees a lot of body slams and headlocks. But the company’s use of network observability technology has helped minimize scrapes and bruises to the enjoyment of matches by the organization’s millions of fans.

Riley was one of two end users of Cisco technology that the networking giant showcased at Cisco Live this week to talk about the benefits of observability to customer experience. He and Mark Rodrigue, a senior network engineer for furniture retailer Room & Board, discussed how their companies’ use of Cisco ThousandEyes, which helps organizations quickly identify, isolate and troubleshoot network problems, has helped make life easier for their IT teams while reducing network downtime.

“We’ve been using Cisco technology for decades, and to see the evolution of the technology from where we were in our TV studio a few decades ago to where we are now has simply been amazing,” Riley said.

They also discussed how observability technology makes it easier to achieve digital resilience.

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Digital Resilience Can Be Hampered When Tech Is Not Always On

The television broadcast of a live entertainment event, such as a night of wrestling, is a marvel of network technology. Though fans are largely unaware, cameras and other equipment inside an arena where an event takes place communicate with technology-packed trucks parked outside. Those trucks in turn communicate with a broadcast center in a fixed location.

“We have TV studios and our corporate offices in Connecticut, and then we have trucks that roll around to arenas all around the world,” Riley said.

The technology inside those trucks is shut down when not in use. That creates challenges for WWE, he said: “To be resilient with technology that’s not up all the time, it’s not easy. When you think about where we were years ago, with antiquated infrastructure, you had to place all your bets in one area. But now, with Cisco technology, especially with ThousandEyes, it’s been really impressive in terms of helping us to find issues and be proactive in resolving them.”

Before its deployment of ThousandEyes, it was common for Riley’s team to receive calls from road crews reporting technology that didn’t work and asking for information and guidance. He didn’t have much to offer, he said: “We just didn’t have visibility into it.”

Now, the team does. “ThousandEyes allows us to see point to point between the agents on the road and the agents back in the studio,” Riley explained. Workers on location can work with the IT team in Connecticut to isolate and solve a network hiccup, and those road crews may not even need assistance, as the technology allows for customizable dashboards so each group can see what it needs to see.

“So, by setting up those dashboards within ThousandEyes, we’re able to create an entry point for really anyone to go in there and investigate an issue,” he said.

READ MORE: How to improve your cyber resilience by focusing on your people.

Creating an In-Person Experience Digitally

In 2020,  the pandemic threw Room & Board for a bit of a loop. The company was accustomed to impressing customers with well-appointed design ideas within its physical stores and building in-person relationships between customers and designers. The shutdowns of retail locations that year meant it had to quickly re-create that experience digitally.

“We pride ourselves on the experience we provide our customers,” Rodrigue said. “We had to focus on how to take the in-person experience and build it in a digital format. A lot of that had to do with relying on cloud-based applications. And from an IT perspective, we wanted to figure out how to remove the friction in that experience so that our design associates could continue to focus on what they’re best at, which is working with customers.”

What made that possible was the flexibility of the technology platforms that the company had invested in, and the work of Cisco to bring additional features to those platforms, he said. That includes, for example, the integration of additional security and monitoring functionality via ThousandEyes, which enables Room & Board’s IT team to track and proactively troubleshoot any issues within its network that might create tension in the customer experience.

For example, it learned recently that an internal order-entry system was running slow and occasionally being nonresponsive. “We went into the platform, and if you zoom out to get enough context, like over a 14-day period, we noticed spikes in the connection time. We dug into it and found out that the virtual server that was configured for this application was not configured like other virtual servers,” he said.

Although fixing that problem did not by itself resolve the issue, it was the first step in an investigative path that ultimately did identify the technical problem. Each step on that path was illuminated by telemetry provided by ThousandEyes.

The experience has caused Rodrigue to make a surprising realization about himself — surprising for most IT people, that is. “I like troubleshooting,” he said. “It’s fun to be a detective.”

To access all of our coverage of Cisco Live, follow us on the social platform X at @BizTechMagazine and the official conference account, @CiscoLive, and join the conversation using the hashtag #CiscoLive.

Photography Courtesy of Cisco

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