Cisco Live! 2021 Takes Security And Networking To New Heights

By Patrick Moorhead - April 19, 2021
Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins on stage at Cisco Live! 2021.

Last year marked the first virtual Cisco Live! event and now that the end of the pandemic appears to be in sight, I am hoping this week’s virtual event was the final one. Like many of my technology analyst colleagues, I am ready to be back on the road again! With that said, the company’s signature event this week was its first-ever global one, with approximately 100,000 virtual attendees. There were numerous announcements at the event, but here I would like to provide some insights into the ones I found most compelling. 

Tripling down on security 

I recently broadened my coverage area with Moor Insights & Strategy to manage our firm’s security practice. In that realm, I found three announcements particularly interesting. First, Cisco announced enhancements to its Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) offering. At Cisco Live! last year, the company announced integrating cloud-native security through its Umbrella platform into the Viptela SD-WAN portfolio to protect against Internet and SaaS-based attacks. This week, Cisco announced an expanded SASE architectural design that includes Meraki and provides enhanced functionality in the form of data loss prevention, remote browser isolation, cloud-based malware detection, incremental cloud on-ramping with Google Cloud and Megaport and observability. The latter is accomplished by integrating Cisco's recent acquisition of ThousandEyes, whose software facilitates both visibility and actionable insights to remediate any issues detected. From my perspective, these observation capabilities are what now differentiate Cisco’s SASE offering from the competition. 

Second, Cisco announced several enhancements to its SecureX platform that are designed to make it a secure endpoint-to-cloud solution. New workflows include phishing and threat investigations that leverage intelligence gathered from Cisco Talos, along with easy configurability with Google, ServiceNow and other third parties. The networking giant also announced Cisco Secure Client, which delivers integration at the endpoint to harden SASE and Zero Trust deployments.

Lastly, Cisco announced a passwordless authentication system that leverages its Duo acquisition. The Duo-branded offering will be available for preview by midyear and for deployment by the end of the year. The system seeks to enable a zero-trust framework with a more effortless login experience for managing both cloud and on-premises infrastructure safely and securely. This capability could be a game-changer that simplifies IT operator password management, and I plan to kick the tires on it soon.

New MIG offerings  

A MIG may sound like a Russian fighter jet, but it is an acronym for Cisco's Mass Scale Infrastructure Group responsible for Cisco’s service provider business. MIG is an area of the company focused on 5G, routed optical networking and custom silicon. Regarding the latter, my firm’s principal analyst Patrick Moorhead recently wrote about some recent updates to Cisco's Silicon One portfolio. If interested, you can find that article here. For the sake of this article, I will focus on Cisco’s routed optical networking offering and 5G plans.  

Cisco believes that a fundamental re-architecture of the Internet is needed to support future connectivity demands, and I agree. The pandemic placed immense pressure on the Internet, spiking traffic up to nearly 50% in many regions, according to Cisco. Additionally, Cisco claims that almost 3B people remain unconnected worldwide; bridging the "digital divide" will require large-scale growth. Cisco is anchoring its “Internet for the Future” vision with a new routed optical networking solution derived from its Acacia acquisition. Acacia’s pluggable coherent optics delivers exceptionally high bandwidth and functions as the interconnect between campus networks and fiber optic cable. I believe Cisco’s integration of Acacia’s intellectual property should provide performance headroom and scale for a post-pandemic hybrid work era. It is also worth noting that Cisco announced a new cloud-native telco gateway, router enhancements, incremental management functionality and services to assist service providers in managing the new Cisco routed optical networking solution. To learn more, you can find the press release here.  

Concerning 5G, the company addressed one of my interest areas related to private cellular networking at the event. Cisco believes that delivering 5G as a managed service is likely the best route to market, and I concur. Cellular infrastructure and licensed spectrum are new to the enterprise and a managed service path should reduce the complexity of integration and speed deployment. It will also serve to accelerate use cases such as factory machine-to-machine communication (to improve yield), and autonomous mining operations (to bolster safety) and more.

Cisco Plus delivers Networking-as-a-Service 

Many companies such as Dell Technologies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Lenovo have been marketing IT consumption services. The benefits are numerous: the ability to treat infrastructure as an operating expense, improved network operator agility and access to the latest connectivity solutions, to name a few. This week, Cisco stepped into the Networking-as-a-Service (NaaS) fray with its Cisco Plus offering. On a high level, this offering aims to deliver NaaS while integrating security and observability. Positioned as simple, predictable and intelligent, Cisco plans to offer both pay-per-use and pay-as-you-grow consumption models. I believe this approach should simplify subscription management and enhance the overall customer experience. My principal Patrick Moorhead will be diving deeper into Cisco Plus in his forthcoming Cisco Live! Forbes article, so stay tuned.

Wrapping up

There was a lot of new product and solution information to digest at this year’s Cisco Live! event, from security to telco to the NaaS offering. I thought the company did a masterful job of bringing it all together again in a way that was engaging and informative despite the digital format. I was also struck with some degree of awe of the executive leadership team in several exclusive analyst breakouts. With his southern charm, CEO Chuck Robbins demonstrated humility. Todd Nightingale, who leads enterprise networking and cloud, demonstrated his passion for technology, as he always does. Lastly, Jonathan Davidson, who leads MIG, showed how his team contributed (and continues to contribute) to the past, present and future of the Internet–sorry Al Gore! Together, I believe that the significant expertise and strength of this diverse group of executives should help fuel Cisco's vision of an inclusive Covid-19 recovery and the “Internet of the Future.”

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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.