Cisco Live: The Rebirth of the Network

    I’m at Cisco Live, the big customer show, this week. One of the frustrating things about events in Los Vegas for me is that generally, surrounded by some of the best entertainers and stage craft in the world, they suck. At Cisco Live, they actually used, at least in the opening, the kind of production that you’d expect in Vegas and it was an impressive start. That was important because, whether we are talking personal entertainment or large enterprise capability, the network is what is making it all possible. No matter the smartphone, workstation, or server farm, if it can’t connect with enough performance, it can’t function.

    Let’s talk about what the Cisco keynote had to offer.

    Redefining the Network

    Chuck Robbins, Cisco CEO, is arguing that the network has to be reinvented. It needs to be designed to be more secure, it has to deal with the reality of multiple clouds, and it has to be able to handle massive data loads. So, Cisco created the concept of Network Intuitive. The concept is that of a network that could evolve in real time, and adjust to the needs of the future by intelligently anticipating that future. This encompasses everything from being able to update network components in real time, updating endpoints as well, and it anticipates a future where we are likely less focused on the problems with the parts largely because we are more focused on the benefits of the whole. This is a network that can transform business intent into profitable business.

    Also at the heart of this effort is the concept of context. Data by itself is largely worthless. The network can often provide the context that, coupled with the data, can better assist in identifying future problems and advising on how to fix them before they actually become noticeable. Cisco is describing this future network almost like you might describe a child: wanting to please, rapidly growing and learning, and eventually becoming something that can intelligently and effectively support the organization that created it.

    Granted, the most powerful part of this initially is Cisco’s new capability of determining malware in encrypted traffic without first decrypting it. This alone is a game changer. This goes with the Talos platform, which is apparently handing over 7 trillion threats annually today.

    Chevron Example

    Chevron showcased a drilling platform heavily covered in sensors. Historically, the data from these sensors was shipped back to a facility, or an engineer was sent to the platform. Both resulted in weeks of analyses before action could be taken. Now, using Cisco’s current technology level, this same process that once took around two weeks takes closer to two seconds.

    Apple on Stage

    Apple CEO Tim Cook got up on stage to talk about the company’s relationship with Cisco. Now, this is fascinating to watch because the last time Apple pivoted to enterprise, it didn’t end well. This is a recurring problem for consumer-focused companies; once they pivot, they tend to lose connection with their old base and the shock tends to devastate sales. However, what Apple is doing differently this time appears to be to largely rely on Cisco and IBM to make the pivot for it. If it can keep this a bit at arm’s distance, it could, in theory, maintain its consumer focus while also having an enterprise focus through Cisco and IBM.

    The measure of success will likely be how well the solutions that are created between the partner companies appear integrated to those who buy them. The best example of something like this that worked was VCE between VMware, Cisco and pre-Dell EMC. Even though that offering was from three companies, it felt like a purpose-defined solution once done.

    Currently, the partners are focused on integrating their security efforts, evidently.

    UnitedHealth Group

    UnitedHealth is a big health organization, focused on providing high consumer satisfaction and reach while still reducing costs. This segment was about data, some of the most complete, but also the most aggressively protected to meet compliance rules. They face daily the sharp conflicts of being able to provide easy access to this data without dropping into non-compliance with regard to security.

    The firm showcased a segment on how an engineer would be helped by an enhanced service after being diagnosed with cancer. She is managed by a connected care director, who helps her understand her illness, coordinates with her doctors’ care plans and medication, and coordinates with her employer in terms of care funding. Her experience is tightly managed, from the initial diagnosis to when the cure is effective. This is the goal that UnitedHealth and Cisco are working toward.

    This is the use of resources to reduce fear and anxiety, while focusing the necessary resources on the cure. That was pretty powerful. It is a shame it doesn’t yet work, but the goal is a powerful one.

    Wrapping Up: Cisco Managing Change

    Cisco is in the midst of a rather impressive change, taking its skill to focus AI efforts where they would be the most effective. I’d like to see more depth in the Apple partnership, more like VCE was, less like other Apple partnerships I’ve watched over the years. The keynote had an impressive opening and the content lived up to that opening. I expect, in 10 years, few of the companies we see today will likely still be around thanks to the amount of change we have in front of us. Cisco, apparently, is stepping up to drive that change, increasing the likelihood that it’ll survive and perhaps flourish with it. We’ll see, but getting out ahead of change and focusing on the strengths you bring to the table, rather than taking blind shots at industries you know little about, is somewhat of a best practice. We are seeing more than a bit of that here at Cisco Live. In short, this isn’t just Cisco arguing the rebirth of the network; it is forcing the rebirth of Cisco.


    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+

    Rob Enderle
    Rob Enderle
    As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.

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