Chuck Robbins is an unusual CEO in that he seems to value the care of his employees extremely highly. Prior to the start of the keynote at Cisco's analyst event at Cisco Live, we had Chief Employee Officer Fran Katsoudas talk about how the company is empowering its employees. To me there is nothing more important for a CEO to do than to focus on employees. So that was my mindset when Chuck got up on stage.
He started by looking back at 1989 when Cisco had its first customer/partner event, called something very different. He covered the massive advancement in the space between 1989 and 2019. He played what a modem sounded like and there were an impressive number of people in the audience who had been at that first event or who had never heard the horrid sound of a modem trying to connect.
His focus was on how critical the technology has become over the last several decades. He joked that some of the changes, like texting instead of speaking, may have had questionable advantages.
Let's get to the meat of his talk.
Helping Customers Up At Night
This is how I think every tech keynote should start. You need a bridge to the audience, and this is where the speaker shows they actually listen to their customers. He pointed out that the customers he talks to are very concerned about security, increasingly concerned about skills shortages, and that the massive amount of technology that has been deployed results in massive concern about staying up with the result.
He dovetailed this to the Cisco strategy of focusing on data, security, cloud, infrastructure, and teams. The goal is to mitigate the problems that the customers have brought forward, and this is and should be the purpose of every company. I found that often firms lose track of why they are doing things, they just toss out products and services under the belief that if they build it customers will come. And the company graveyard is filled with firms that forget that this doesn't work.
Chuck reiterated that there isn't an investment his firm is making that isn't tied to some identified customer need.
Chuck spoke to the massive amount of technology advancements that were coming in things like blockchain and AI that should assure the jobs of everyone in the audience. Granted this will often require retraining but Cisco is one of the leaders in supplying training to their customers and recognizing that you can't sell a technology unless there is a critical mass of people that know how to spec, install, and use it.
Areas that Cisco is particularly focused on are Intent-based Networking, Multi-cloud & SD-WAN, Data Center, IoT, 5G & Wi-Fi 6, security, and Cognitive Collaboration. One really interesting, right now, area is multi-cloud connectivity. This is because firms have not only deployed hybrid platforms, they are increasingly using a wider variety of cloud providers that have to conform to the cost, security, speed, and simplicity needs of the organizations. Chuck knows that this isn't tomorrow's need, this is today's need.
He then showcased the coming wave of technologies and the need to keep ahead of them ranging from industrial drones to ever more powerful AIs.
One of the mistakes I think CEO's often make from time to time is feeling they need to be expert on everything and then they showcase, in front of a large audience, they aren't. Chuck brought up one of his top lieutenants David Goeckeler EVP/GM Networking and security.
He again framed his talk with customer problems. The ones he highlighted were mobility, number of devices, and the fact that users want to access what they want across devices and from wherever they are. The things they are accessing may be in the public or private cloud, SaaS sources, on premise, and this isn't exhaustive. It is forcing Cisco to rearchitect their entire portfolio to meet this need simply and securely.
Cisco's big goal is to integrate all these various domains in ways that haven't been done before. Over the last two years and going forward Cisco is focused on securely connecting any user to every network they need to connect to.
He was joined on stage by Carl Solder, VP, Technical Marketing Enterprise Networking Business to talk about End-To-End Segmentation to do a demo. They showcased targeted domain controllers spanning three different domains and how the resulting implementation was easy to manage and provided the level of user access that David had just highlighted. To recap he showcased the problem, spoke about Cisco's priority to fix it, and then demonstrated the actual fix. This is really how it should be done because it provides context to the audience for the solution that Cisco proposes tying the customer identified problem to Cisco's engineered solution. The demonstration graphically showcased how a policy could be easily propagated across the Domains in a worldwide deployment. This capability doesn't exist today but will in a few months.
These architecture changes are propagating across Cisco's product lines so that the administrators aren't overwhelmed while trying to address those customers' needs.
Campus Of The Future
I love these discussions of the future because it allows me to imagine what many of us will have access to next decade. The campus of the future will have blended 5G and Wi-Fi 6 capabilities. Cisco is bringing out an entire new suite of products and a new OS to address this campus of the future high-speed wireless world.
Part of their effort is to implement the latest AI technology to manage this new line, the goal of this is to offset any resulting complexity with intelligent automation. One of the core problems in noise in these systems and they brought out one of their research fellows and he spoke to how they are dealing with this issue using their DNA Center and Cisco's SD-WAN offerings.
One of the most interesting demonstrations was an example of applied AI. What the AI did was able to do was to look at open issues. In the demonstration they showcased a long list of issues, clicking on one button allowed the AI to reduce these issues to two. They then used machine reasoning to do Root Cause Analysis. This identifies what is causing the problem that resulted in one of the two remaining problems and drive the targeted solution. The tool learns over time and speed and capability of the result improves as the tool learns. This appears to be a Deep Learning implementation which is truly cutting edge.
Liz Centoni SVP IoT, and Bob Karschnia VP/GM Wireless Emersion Automation Solutions came on stage to talk about one of the biggest problems in the industry and that is managing the mass, and mess, of connected devices coming to the market. They looked at a petrochemical solution that monitors gas production from upstream (the oil pumps), to refineries (midstream), and final transportation to the endpoint (downstream). The solution showcased wireless capability both in terms of control and in terms of the sensors and software that manage, automate, and secure the effort.
Workers get data on their tablets without having to contact the control room with a 50% productivity benefit resulting from the effort. This equates to a $5M annual savings for the oil company and a payback time in months not years for the new technology that enables this.
This not only has to be secure but extreme reliability because a mistake here can be catastrophic. Apparently only 40% of IoT deployments are making it to deployment right now and Cisco is working to improve that number with Intent-Based Networking.
Cisco Research: Quantum Security
Ok now this is interesting, they are now talking about security in a Post-Quantum world. Dave McGrew Cisco Fellow, Advanced Security Group came on stage to talk about this. The huge exposure with Quantum computers is that they, in theory, can break even the most robust encryption very quickly. The massive parallel processing capability will make public key cryptography “roadkill”. So, they are working on quantum safe cryptography into any future session key that a company might use so that security remain intact during a hostile quantum attack.
Cisco is building prototypes of their solution and can demonstrate a working post-quantum secure key and related management showcasing that when this problem emerges Cisco will have a solution for it. This is still early, and it now needs to go down the standards path to assure people will want to implement it.
Push To The Show Floor
While this was a short segment it is also something that many of these shows forget. The keynote should push people to the floor and there was a short segment that showcased a VR headset and get some candy if you took the time to wonder down to the show floor and visited the booths. If people aren't pushed to do this, particularly in a nice venue like San Diego, they are likely to use their free time to go outside instead of the show floor where the products are.
One of the areas they pointed to was DevNet and they highlighted the new certifications that Cisco will grant to help promote the critical education path for many of the attendees. DevNet has a new automated exchange so that firms can collaborate on the problems and issues that they have.
Chuck largely ended as he started by showcasing that Cisco Live is all about the people in the room and that he is excited about hosting and assuring we have a good time. He spoke to one of his biggest personal causes and that is solving homelessness. This is part of Cisco's DNA to do well by doing good and he highlighted some things that people could help with in terms of helping mitigate the homeless problem at the venue here in San Diego. It is interesting to note, and very unusual, that they had an audience participation event to prepare packages for the homeless and for us analyst they invested $50 in our name into a loan program targeting people that have no assets and we'll get notifications on how our “investment” pans out driving many of us to invest on our own (this is interesting because it is like philanthropy but you can recycle your investment helping more people over time).
This was a nice way to end.