At 2017’s Cisco Live Europe, the keynote address was delivered with a straightforward message: buy Cisco. That’s not a terribly unusual message from these sorts of events, but it seemed particularly poignant in the delivery style I heard today. I think that has to do with a Cisco having become a company that’s a bit different from the one I’ve always considered them.
Cisco’s Key Points
1. Holistic security. Cisco poked a bit of fun at the idea of best of breed security and point solutions, encouraging the audience to look at security enforcement from a holistic way. “Enforcement everywhere” could have been the theme of this point. Cisco even claimed to offer, “The very best security architecture in the world,” although the statement came across as one of those things that companies say. Not really a lot of substance to back up that claim…just a claim.
2. Automation. The network must be automated. Cisco went through a litany of their products that support a more hands-off, push-button, drag-n-drop approach to networking, including DNA, APIC-EM, ZTP, and Easy-QoS.
3. Multi-cloud. Cisco said they were, “optimizing for the multi-cloud reality.” They brought up CloudCenter, the product evolution of the CliQr acquisition as I understand it, emphasizing the ability to put any workload on any cloud anywhere geographically. Cisco also made a big deal about empowering the developer to spin up what they need on their own — no operations involvement required. “Cisco has embraced the cloud. We’re helping you to work in the cloud in the way that it actually exists.”
4. Analytics for the entire business. In this point, Cisco reminded the audience about the AppDynamics acquisition — a big cash outlay. Why emphsize AppDynamics? Because AppDynamics isn’t just for the IT staff. It’s meant to provide business insights.
In addition, Cisco bragged on Tetration, although notably, they didn’t put an end customer on stage to discuss the product. Instead, they put internal Cisco IT on the stage to talk about the deliciousness of the dog food. It’s not that Cisco IT doesn’t have a big shop to run. Of course they do, and they had some insights to share about what Tetration brought to the table for them. However, it struck me as an unusually soft set of softballs being tossed. Of course, Cisco is going to talk about the wondrous capability of their own products – no surprise there. But the discussion just didn’t feel validating for Tetration. Rather, it felt…awkward. Tetration needs validation from an outside user, and we didn’t get that at CLEUR. Stay tuned.
5. Under the broad umbrella of “sparking brilliance for everyone,” Cisco brought up their new digital building switch, which I’ll address in more detail in a separate article, as I took a detailed briefing on it.
Cisco also brought up the Cisco Spark Board, a 4K screen that’s also a sharable whiteboard, remote screen, and teleconference tool. In a tweet, @CiscoLiveEurope responded to my tweet about pricing, stating that Spark Board would be priced at about $5K, with just under $200 a month in subscription costs.
6. DevNet app development. Cisco closed out the keynote with a DevNet discussion, raising the example of an ISV that was on their last legs, but leveraged DevNet to create a new application and start winning deals.
The view from the hot aisle.
As interesting as what Cisco did message was what they did NOT message. There was no discussion of interoperability with other vendor products. There was very little discussion about partnerships or third party alignments, except where the partner had created a product based on a Cisco platform.
Related to the lack of interoperability messaging was the lack of messaging around standards. We’re at a time in networking where standards for automation are essentially non-existent. We could use some. There are efforts in this space, don’t misunderstand me. But Cisco was about leading their customers with solutions they could sell to them, and not about leading their industry with standards we can build on.
Yet another oddly lacking point was about cost optimization in the cloud. There was much talk about how to easily leverage multiple clouds. But there was no discussion about controlling costs related to public cloud consumption. That’s a huge issue of great interest to cloud consumers that went unaddressed, when I’m fairly sure the CloudCenter platform can actually help in this area.
It occurs to me that Cisco is no longer the networking company I once tied my career fate to. Cisco certainly is a networking company, but they have become much more than that.
Rather than simply selling routers and switches, Cisco would instead prefer to sell systems — solutions. Cisco identifies markets where they can sell a massive hardware and software solution, build and/or buy the elements of that solution, and then start looking for deals.
For example, Cisco’s discussion of digital buildings translates into a solution of hardware switches with UPoE and lots of software to manage the network. They are selling a system that converges disparate building systems (lighting, HVAC, wireless, video surveillance, etc.) into a single unified system where each building system is still secured from the other. The switching and the IP addressing is all incidental; all those things that network engineers traditionally care about barely matter in the broader context.
Think of the opportunity for Cisco — every deal on a new construction project (plausible) or building retrofit (harder) is going to shift pallet-loads of switches and who knows how much software licensing. Huge wins. Big money. Recurring revenue if they structure part of the deal as opex. (Pay your subscription or the lights go out.)
Put another way, Cisco is taking the technology that network engineers know and then using it as a foundation for specific business propositions. And in that context, the keynote makes much better sense. Cisco doesn’t want to sell to the IT folks now. They are a business solutions company. The infrastructure Cisco makes is an enabler — no longer an endgame.