DNAC Tour Part 1: Introduction to Cisco DNA Center

Peter Welcher
Architect, Operations Technical Advisor

A previous blog I posted on LinkedIn mentioned virtual demos.

It seems like it could be useful for me to provide some structure around the DNAC (DNA Center) instant demo, providing guidance and suggested tour flow.

What is DNAC? DNA Center is a Cisco GUI for managing all things in a Campus Switch, Wireless, IOT, etc. network, now with tie-ins for SD-WAN. My guess is that DNAC is likely the eventual replacement for Cisco Prime (and very impressive already!), but Cisco doesn’t quite say that. DNAC does provide support back to, e.g., 3850 model switches, but for old APs, you may need to use Prime. DNAC also packages up some AI etc., to greatly simplify and speed up managing a campus network.

This is the first in a series of blogs with screen captures providing a virtual tour of DNAC.

If you can, use these blogs while working with the online Instant Demo. The screen captures shown will help you make sure you’re on the same screen as my instructions. And if you’re in a hurry or can’t access the Instant Demo, well, reading is fast, and the screen captures should be helpful.

I’ll note that some people may be ignoring DNAC, thinking it is just for SD-Access. NOT!

DNAC can be used to manage switches, APs, etc., without ever doing SD-Access. Most of its functionality does precisely that.

DNAC also happens to support automated deployment of SD-Access, with little to no CLI work. But that is maybe 20% or less of what it can do! I will note that for SD-Access, DNAC pushes a LOT of configuration lines out to devices. This is NOT something you would ever want to do remotely; it would be highly error-prone and tedious! And I’ve seen ill effects from tedious, as in QoS not working because someone got bored and missed buffer over-runs.

DNAC Resources

I don’t want to re-invent the wheel, and a series of blogs (and/or screen captures) isn’t likely to replace a hands-on course anytime soon. So what’s available as far as other resources?

There are some DNA Center training courses – use Google to find them. Cisco has training videos under a DNA Center heading, although what comes up for me is videos about ISE and other topics. I bet there are some good Cisco videos on DNAC out there, but I’ve run into this before: they’re hard to find.

Caveat: This DNAC GUI tour does not cover SD-Access and Intent-Based Networking, nor SD-Access Design.  The courses may well focus more on those aspects of SD-Access. That’s where the book(s) on those topics may be more helpful.

The Cisco Press book about SD-Access and DNA Center (see https://www.ciscopress.com/store/cisco-software-defined-access-9780136448389) Is a fine reference. However, judging by the Table of Contents, that book is more about the technology and SD-Access design, not the DNAC GUI per se. So it should complement these blogs.

Cisco’s documentation for DNAC and DNA Assurance looks pretty good. Both documents (online or PDF) appear logically organized and in the order of first things to do coming first in the documentation, more or less. And they cover the GUI, but without screen captures. (That may reflect the fact that redoing screen captures with every software update or GUI change could get costly.)

DNAC Documentation page: https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/support/cloud-systems-management/dna-center/products-user-guide-list.html

2.2.3 User Guide: https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/td/docs/cloud-systems-management/network-automation-and-management/dna-center/2-2-3/user_guide/b_cisco_dna_center_ug_2_2_3.html

2.2.3 Assurance User Guide: https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/td/docs/cloud-systems-management/network-automation-and-management/dna-center-assurance/2-2-3/b_cisco_dna_assurance_2_2_3_ug.html

You may want to download the DNAC User Documentation to conveniently skim the details that go with each of the headings below and in the subsequent blogs in this series.

For what it’s worth, the Instant Demo DNAC is currently running version, so it may not align with either the 2.2.2 or 2.2.3 documentation exactly.

When you access the Instant Demo, you’ll see that there is a documented tour at https://dcloud-docs.cisco.com/c/r/dcloud-docs/sites/en_us/EN/dnac_demo_zone/b_dna_center_demo_zone_guide.html. It focuses on Health (Assurance). That’s useful. Feel free to use it to supplement what I suggest below after taking my tour!

About My Tour Guide’s Organization

As far as the organization of this tour, while the DNAC menus are logically organized, startup tasks sometimes cut across multiple menu items, which might be awkward at first. The tour will also be doing that to some degree: cutting across menu items to be somewhat more task-oriented. I’ll include references to the relevant documentation sections as we go.

The overall approach will be to get connected, look around about, then deep dive on Assurance and the value it provides. Then touch upon other key aspects of DNAC, finishing with getting the feel of the components of DNAC that support deploying SD-Access.

Do I Need to Know Much About SD-Access?

No, you do not.

DNAC is a powerful tool for managing campus/site networks.

One option is to use it to deploy SD-Access networks, typically using Catalyst 9000 series switches. You do NOT have to do SD-Access to get a lot of the value that DNAC provides! (Worth repeating.)

I intend in this blog series to mostly avoid explaining what SD-Access is and not get into what I learned about it in an early design. You can find a list of my 2020 blogs on various topics around SD-Access at the top of the final blog in that series: https://netcraftsmen.com/sd-access-flows-sda-transit/. The concepts remain the same, although the DNAC GUI has been reorganized somewhat.

The Main Functions in DNAC

So, what are the main parts of the tour?

Here’s how I organize demos I present at the top level:

  • Accessing the Demo/Beginning Your Tour
  • General Navigation and Highlights: Dashboard, Drill Down, Assurance/Troubleshooting
  • Getting Started Tasks (Overview): Discovery, PnP, Templates, Provisioning
  • Using DNAC: Design, Inventory, SWIM
  • Exploring Deploying an SDA-Fabric, VRFs (VNs), GBACLs and SGTs
  • Other Workflows

That’s what we’ll do on this tour.


That concludes the background information and hopefully teases your interest.

The next blog will get you started on the actual tour. Most of the following blogs will be somewhat long in page count because of all the screen captures.


Disclosure statement