Cisco held its signature North American customer and partner event in Las Vegas this week, welcoming nearly 20,000 attendees to Cisco Live 2023. The show brought with it a dizzying number of product, strategy and partnership announcements. I want to unpack the announcement payload and provide insights into what I find compelling.
Betting big on security
Cisco is no stranger to security, but one could argue that security hasn’t been a real strategic priority for the company in the past. However, it’s safe to say that it has changed. CEO Chuck Robbins and several members of his executive leadership team spoke to security’s importance during the opening day keynote session. It’s no secret that networking and security are converging on many fronts, which presents Cisco with a compelling market opportunity, given its broad presence in networking. Based on its most recent financial quarter results, it is also evident that the company’s security business has plenty of headroom for growth given its past contribution.
To that end, Tom Gillis has returned to Cisco after time spent at VMware to lead the company’s Security Cloud initiative, which aims to uplevel the value of its security stack. Gillis and I spoke just before this year’s RSA Conference, and I also had an opportunity to spend time with him and his team during Cisco Live. What I like about Gillis’s vision is his focus on consolidating multiple security capabilities to ease customer procurement, deployment and management. The added benefit is a simplified selling approach for Cisco’s channel partners.
Beyond the consolidation efforts, Cisco also used the event to announce several new security capabilities:
- Cisco Secure Access is a new security service edge (SSE) solution designed to improve hybrid work experiences and simplify access across locations, devices and applications. I assumed this functionality was intended to level-set Cisco with the competition. However, after spending time with executives at Cisco Live, I quickly learned that Cisco is leapfrogging the competition. Cisco Secure Access securely steers network traffic automatically and provides contextual awareness that leverages the company’s ThousandEyes embedded network visibility platform. General availability is expected in October.
- The Cisco Secure Firewall 4200 Series offers AI- and ML-based encrypted threat blocking (without requiring decryption), zero-trust network access (ZTNA) support for application inspection and policy and simplified branch routing spanning multiple domains. General availability is expected in September.
- Cisco Multicloud Defense, based on the company’s acquisition of Valtix, extends firewalls across multiple public clouds using a single policy and console. It is available immediately.
- Panoptica, currently a cloud workload protection platform (CWPP), will add security posture management in the fall to secure cloud-native applications. Cisco is also integrating its full-stack observability portfolio, anchored by AppDynamics, for real-time visibility to prioritize business risk. I also recently published an explainer tied to cloud-native application protection that provides further context.
Finally, to be included in the ChatGPT party, Cisco also previewed generative AI capabilities in its security cloud designed to simplify security operations and increase efficiency. Future planned functionality includes security operations center (SOC) and policy assistants that have the potential to optimize firewall management as well as detect and respond to threats faster.
Networking portfolio simplification
Cisco has grown over the years through both organic roadmap development and acquisitions. However, it’s the latter that can often create a challenging proposition for the complexity of its portfolio. Product and feature overlap must be rationalized, and often the patchwork of acquired brands becomes confusing for customers.
Cisco has done an admirable job integrating Meraki, Viptela, Duo and scores of other companies while positioning a clear delineation of functionality. However, this has begun to blur, and Cisco recognizes the need to simplify the portfolio to make it easier for partners to sell and customers to consume its networking infrastructure.
To this end, the company has announced Cisco Networking Cloud, not a product but rather a multi-year packaging exercise designed to consolidate disparate branding as well as operational management across its infrastructure stack. New features include a common user interface, single sign-on (SSO) and an API key exchange/repository that should facilitate cross-platform automation efficiencies. Automation tool sprawl has been one of my criticisms of Cisco in the past, and I applaud the company for taking this critical step to address it.
Finally, the rapid integration of ThousandEyes to provide network assurance can give Cisco a competitive advantage given its granular visibility, faster time to insights and capability to deliver robust digital experience monitoring. The latter is compelling, especially given the nature of today’s hybrid work environment.
Robbins opened the event with the tagline “Innovation to solve your challenges.” My takeaway from that statement is that Cisco is keenly focused on driving discrete business outcomes for its customers versus merely selling them new shiny objects such as security point solutions, routers and switches.
I’m also impressed with how quickly the company is integrating ThousandEyes into many of its solution offerings and how in the process it has launched a full-stack observability platform with the potential to provide its customers with added value and the company with significant revenue upside. The network infrastructure consolidation and simplification should also reduce market friction, while a reinvigorated approach to its security portfolio could position Cisco for continued success well into the future.