This week, I’m at Cisco’s annual customer event, Cisco Live, in Orlando, Florida. Cisco remains one of the most powerful technology companies in the market and has never been more relevant. It is the company that provides the technology that largely enables the internet and the cloud, and we currently exist in a connected cloud world. The theme for this year’s show is Imagine Intuitive.
Let’s see where this CEO keynote from Chuck Robbins takes us, as I’m writing this real time.
Chaos and Wonder of a Hyper-Connected World
We live in a hyper-connected world; 400 million people over the last year have connected to the internet, and 200 billion new machine-to-machine connections were made. In the next five years, 2.5 billion new connections will be made. This has and will result in a massive increase in complexity, and dealing with that is what the people in this audience with me will be doing. Delivering health care and education to the millions of people who are and will be connected to the internet, responding to disasters by bringing up networking and communications, and improving collaborative networks between people to improve productivity are key to solving the problems we face.
Networks Will Be the Power of the Future
Connecting cities to their citizens, connecting people with peers, and connecting companies and machines to each other will define our future.
The Good Old Days
Robbins went into some depth with regard to how networks are set up today. It made sense when 95 percent of everything we had connected to our own facilities. But that has changed as a result of public cloud implementations, and not one public cloud, but many. With these clouds, software as a service also proliferated, resulting in a need for more infrastructure and solutions to deliver and manage the result.
Today’s Secure Virtual Architecture
These changes have resulted in a far more complex structure, one that is secure and virtual. This is one of the areas that has seen impressive advancement. We are at a point where there is software-defined everything and that not only speaks to the complexity of the result, but its fluidity. Together, this represents a potential massive increase in complexity and increases the management difficulty significantly as well, and this creates huge potential security problems. Assuring these new technologies and approaches are secure is baked into Cisco’s product and services strategy. But they also showcase the desire and need for end-to-end solutions that keep this complexity and resulting exposures to a minimum.
The Network’s Next Act
Executives don’t care about the technology, they want the business to move faster, they want instant execution as soon as they develop a strategy. Security concerns need to be mitigated because executives don’t want to deal with them, they simply want them taken care of.
Secure, Intelligent, Platform for Digital Business
This leads to Cisco’s strategy. It is founded, as you would expect, in the need to do more with the network than ever before. We have to increase the pace of innovation because the changes are coming so quickly, and the threats and opportunities are increasing with them. This will be applied to assure Cisco’s customers can take care of their customers so well they won’t ever want to leave.
Cisco plans to be the power behind a multi-cloud world, creating solutions for the Google Cloud, Azure and Kubernetes to increase the robust capability that Cisco’s customers already have.
To execute this strategy, Cisco needs solid partnerships. One such partnership is with the Google Cloud. Cisco worked with Google Cloud to assure that this service worked as well off-premise as the Cisco Kubernetes service worked on-premise. Robbins introduced Diane Greene, who is CEO of the Google Cloud, to talk about the “unbelievable opportunity” that this represented for both firms. The goal of the partnership is to find ways to disrupt what customer companies are doing without disrupting operations. I think she means allow the customers to significantly innovate to solve problems without screwing up operations excessively. Kubernetes is one of the fastest growing open source platforms in the world and under heavy use in Google internally, as well. Based on audience feedback, there were a significant number of firms using Kubernetes at the moment. Both executives praised the partnership and the progress they have been making together. Some of the benefits of this partnership are more modern development environments, better focus on the business of the company, increased development speed, for operations and security, it provides a common stable platform to manage and secure.
Reinvent the Network
The next generation of branch networking is upon us. There are huge changes in both products and services. Cisco has worked with one service provider to reach a speed where that provider can update 60K routers a night. Currently, the Catalyst 9000 is the fastest ramping product in Cisco’s history, with 50K customers adapting it to date. This product brings together automation, security and analytics to change the operations status quo in organizations where it is deployed.
Unlock the Power of Data
Robbins listed a series of offerings that would help customers access and use the power of the data that exists in their organizations. These products included Business IQ, DNA Assurance, Encrypted Data Analytics (ETA), Kinetic for Industrial IoT, Network Assurance Engine and Tetration.
Security Is Foundational
We’re now moving to another set of Cisco products that assure the architecture that spans everything from the network to the cloud. These products include AMP for Endpoints, Cyber Security Insurance, Encrypted Threat Analytics (ETA), FirePower 2100, Stealthwatch Cloud, Talos and Umbrella. With this, Cisco is blocking billions of attacks every day, tens of thousands every second.
Create Meaningful Experiences
This is tied to the collaboration portfolio, which includes Collaboration and Meeting Rooms 4, Hybrid Media Services, Video Mesh and others. Cisco, a communications company at its core, naturally sees collaboration as a strategic opportunity and has an impressive number of offerings in this space. However, I wonder, given that collaboration is more of a behavioral problem to solve than a technical one, whether the technology industry in general should be approaching this differently.
Secure, Virtual Architecture
If 85 percent of your data is off-premise, the technology you use to manage it should likely be off-premise, as well. Cisco is aggressively moving to provide that solution. It highlighted a hospital, Children’s Hospital of LA, which has 30,000 connected devices that have to be secured and managed. Lives depend on this and they use and recommend Cisco as the end-to-end solution, which has helped them assure the related services as a result. They replaced a network that was eight years old and completely inadequate. For instance, just to get a networked machine to work in any room took them months prior to them replacing that aging network with a complete Cisco solution (they weren’t a Cisco shop before). They partnered with Advance Services to first emulate the environment that Cisco recommended and after that emulation was successful, they rolled aggressively toward deployment.
According to the hospital, the resulting deployment has been extremely successful largely thanks to the relentless support from their CIO. Apparently, they do a substantial amount of research at this hospital and, as a hospital, have massive security requirements. The Cisco solution improved both efforts significantly. This deployment isn’t done. One case they shared was of a teenage patent who had only a 20 percent chance of living. He was left alone as his parents lived hundreds of miles away and all he wanted was to play with his PlayStation. Post Cisco, they were able to easily set it up and dedicate a line for his use.
Robbins moved to talk about innovation in general, not just with product but with process. Cisco created a customer experience organization with a dedicated customer experience officer. These folks are going to focus on improving the customer experience with Cisco products through its entire service life. DEVNET is another new organization designed to help and enable developers; currently, 500,000 developers are registered and using this service.
Commitment to Learning
Cisco realizes it doesn’t have enough technical resources to deal with this changing world. It recognizes that with automation and AI, there will be people who will lose their jobs. Cisco is working with other firms, often competitors, to help reskill 1 million of these folks and assure their continued employment while reducing the skills shortfall. On top of that, it has programs like Learning@Cisco, Cisco Network Academy, IoT Talent Consortium and the Cybersecurity Scholarship.
Corporate responsibility has been, to Cisco, a very important area for funding and support. Responding to natural disasters, providing technology to help those with disabilities, providing training in underdeveloped areas to promote development in areas like banking, Cisco’s networking academy trained 1.3 million people, aggressively addressing unemployment and potentially reducing crime. The corporate goal is to make the world a better place. Back in 2016, it made a goal of positively impacting a billion people by 2025 and it is on track, with 200 million positively impacted so far through Cisco’s efforts. Cisco believes that success is not just defined by financial success but by making the world a better place.
Going forward, the company plans to much more aggressively talk about efforts here to encourage other companies to join in and increase the positive impact on the world.
Wrapping Up: Trying to Combine Doing Well and Doing Good
Like any technology company, Cisco’s technology can be used for good or ill. Both would make money and most keynotes end with a pitch. What I think is interesting is that this keynote ended with a promise that Cisco intends to make a positive impact on the world and regardless of what Cisco sells, Cisco wants to make a positive, meaningful difference. It is one of the few companies working to mitigate the coming impact of automation and AI and has aggressively moved to help eliminate homelessness near its corporate headquarters. It remains one of the best examples of a company attempting to do well by doing good and it is setting a powerful example for others as a result. I can’t think of a better goal than creating a competition based on positive world change.
In the end, I was struck that we all have choices and that, like Cisco, we should aspire to make our choices so that we help turn the world into a better place.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+