I attended Cisco Live! Europe 2019 this week in the beautiful city of Barcelona, Spain. Famous for its amazing cuisine of tapas, paella, and ham, the city also features architectural wonders like the La Sagrada Familia, designed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi. Construction started in 1882 and the story is that it’s been under perpetual construction ever since. I liken this to Cisco System’s approach to networking. Founded in 1984 by Stanford students Len Bosack and Sandy Lerner, the company has adapted and grown throughout the last three decades—both organically and through strategic acquisitions such as Meraki—to gain massive market scale.
Much the same could be said for the company’s intent-based networking journey. When the strategy was announced by CEO Chuck Robbins in June of 2017, Cisco declared it was the company’s future. I was initially critical, but over the past eighteen plus months, the company added significant capabilities from an analytics, security, and assurance perspective. This week, Cisco continued to build momentum behind its “The Network, Intuitive” with a new course in delivering a more robust Internet of Things solution set (IoT) and supporting a distributed data center model. I would like to share some of my insights and learnings after spending time with top Cisco leadership at the event.
IT plus OT truly does equal IoT
At this point, IoT is a white-washed term in the tech industry. From my perspective, it’s about widespread connectivity—be it smart home devices, IP cameras, or sensors on manufacturing equipment. All too often, product creators focus on the “shiny object” and “speeds and feeds.” This ignores the actual use cases that demonstrate the tangible value, transformation, and experience for the user. What I found compelling around the Cisco IoT announcement this week was a focus on use cases. I was amazed to learn that the company counts nearly 50,000 customers today that deploy a combination of IoT hardware and software-defined networking solutions (one example is the Port of Rotterdam, which manages the movement of thousands of shipping containers daily and wants to enable autonomous shipping by 2030). To accelerate its momentum in these areas, Cisco announced several initiatives, including an extension of its Catalyst product line in a ruggedized form factor, blueprint/engineering guides that guide partners and customers in deployment, a channel program that enables partner success, and DevNet resources that will help accelerate development and extend Cisco’s reach. I’ve written about DevNet in the past—if interested you can find that article here.
So why the math problem? The traditional Information Technology (IT) world reaped the benefits of software-defined networking, delivering better management, scalability, and security. However, in the Operations Technology (OT) space, often the “non-carpeted” functions of manufacturing and logistics are not connected or are under topologies that are proprietary, fraught with security risks, and complex, providing moderate to no insights. Cisco aims to change this, through a partner recruitment effort and by reaching into its own massive IT install base to uncover OT connectivity opportunities. It’s also leveraging its IOS XE operating system and Kinetic software to link IT and OT together through a common framework, to provide visibility and insight to all devices. On the OT side, one of the most significant transformations will be predictive maintenance for manufacturing equipment, ensuring lower downtime and greater yields. Cisco cited its work with Zeiss Group, a 170-year-old German leader in optics and medical equipment, as another proof point. Zeiss Group utilizes Cisco technology to monitor and manage over 5,000 machines globally.
A liberation of the data center
The other significant announcement at the event this week were enhancements aimed at liberating the traditional siloed data center. This involves the expansion of Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) into the cloud with Amazon Web Services – +0% and fast up-and-comer Microsoft MSFT -0.02% Azure, an extension of Cisco HyperFlex hyper-converged infrastructure into branch and remote locations, improved lifecycle multi-cloud management within Cisco CloudCenter, and a simplified customer acquisition path for all of the company’s data center solutions through a single enterprise agreement.
I believe all of the aforementioned enhancements comprise a solid strategy on Cisco’s part—the delivery of world-class networking infrastructure will not be a single, one-size-fits-all exercise. Data is being generated on an ever-increasing scale. As a result, connectivity has to be close to the creation source and needs to employ the right mix of on-premise, multi-cloud, and edge capabilities for each customer’s needs. I shared additional insights on this announcement in a taped segment on the show floor this week. If interested, you can find that video here.
I attended the Cisco Live! North America event in Orlando last summer. Even though this event in Barcelona for the company’s European, Middle Eastern, African, and Russian geography was smaller in scale and echoed some of the same messages, there was one notable difference. In every keynote, the common theme centered around use cases and customer experience. That’s a significant shift from the past for the networking giant and one that I believe will pay dividends for the company down the road. Cisco boasts that it has deployed 50 million networks over a twenty-year period. Suffice it to say, most in the industry know the company’s reputation for delivering high-quality hardware. I believe leading with use cases and enabling channel partner success, not leaning into a single data center strategy, and continuing to invest in its DevNet developer programs will keep the company focused on its end-all goal of delivering intent-based networking to the masses.