Cisco announced a series of new hardware, software, and silicon products this week at its big San Francisco launch event. One of the most interesting was a new processor called “Cisco Silicon One” that represented an ugly Christmas present for networking chip makers Broadcom, Juniper, and Arista. Cisco has been famous for disrupting the networking market, and it is one of two companies, the other being Qualcomm, that is championing the U.S. 5G worldwide deployment battle for technology leadership.
But the most interesting part of the launch was a near throwaway comment by their CEO Chuck Robbins. He indicated that Cisco was opening its technology and that customers could pick and choose what they wanted to buy, be it processors, software, and/or hardware.
This is potentially a game-changer in the segment because it will provide not only enhanced choice and agility for customers, but it will drive Cisco into opening more channels and enhancing and expanding its services offerings.
Let’s talk about that his week.
The Opposite of Lock-In
IBM and the concept of lock-in defined much of the early days of computing. This meant that vendors worked to “lock-in” and made dependent customers effectively subordinating them to the vendor’s strategies, services, and products. This was fine early on because no company knew as much about this technology than IBM and, as long as IBM maintained customer focus, it worked very well for the company and its customers. But, once the market saturated, IBM began to mine customers for money, treating them as a resource, rather than a partner, and those customers revolted almost putting IBM out of business. It was a very close thing.
Since then, most companies, with Apple and Oracle as obvious exceptions, largely worked to avoid lock-in, but still, they tended to group products, services, and components into largely self-contained solutions that were difficult to enhance with competing 3rd party offerings. Yes, you could move, but that move was still overly expensive and, even if you had a lot of in-company technical knowledge, you weren’t allowed to modify the solution to fit your needs better significantly.
This situation has been evolving; AMD introduced their semi-custom effort to address the unique needs of some large-scale customers like the Xbox and PlayStation divisions of Microsoft and Sony. Qualcomm and Intel showcased flexibility by allowing Microsoft to create custom processors for their Surface X, Surface Neo, and Surface Duo offerings.
But perhaps the most aggressive is Cisco’s announcement to allow hardware, software, and processors to free float against the unique needs of their customers. Theirs was the ultimate choice of being able to pick the parts you want and build your unique solutions.
Cisco's Big Move
As noted, this was a big announcement this week not only bringing out their processor but an exhaustive enhancement to their networking 8000 Series hardware product portfolio, and XR7 operating system. One of the interesting parts of this is a Cloud-Enhanced Trustworthy system component. This allows a buyer to easily assure the integrity of their network, regarding trusted systems, across thousands of hardware components. Backing up this launch was Disney, Microsoft, Facebook, AT&T, and Comcast five of the most powerful tech-centric companies in the world.
But the interesting thing is being able to mix and match components so that you can not only optimize for your business model and unique needs. You can add third-party vendors to the solution providing additional flexibility to enhance the customer’s agility and uptime.
While the firms were fans of the technology, they raved about the flexibility this move provided and for companies at this scale, and in this stratified group, that flexibility was, for them, a game-changer.
We often forget how important choice is in the market. It forces competition and focuses vendors on their customers and their satisfaction, not just on finding new and ever more creative ways to get them to part with their funds. This flexibility also allows customers to experiment, which, when shared, can significantly enhance the market information companies like Cisco get and enabling future products they wouldn’t have otherwise considered. In effect, properly instrumented, customers given a choice can provide huge R&D real-life enhancements to the firm’s, in this case, Cisco’s roadmap because these customers go from concept to deployment and know more about their markets than Cisco will ever be able to know.