Crystal Ball

What Did Cisco Live Reveal About The Future Of Networking?

Crystal BallIs it possible to be a successful networking professional and not have a deep understanding of what Cisco’s strategy is today and how it is likely to evolve over the next couple of years? Personally, I don’t think so, and in search of that understanding, I attended the recent Cisco Live conference in Orlando.

Cisco Live is the company’s largest customer event of the year. When she kicked off the conference, Blair Christie, Cisco’s CMO stated that over 20,000 people were in attendance in person at this year’s conference and that over 250,000 would watch parts or all of the conference online. She also added that the in-person attendance had more than doubled since the last one held in Orlando five years ago.

Some of the most exciting features of the conference are the keynotes from Cisco’s leadership team that discuss the company’s vision and strategy. The good news is that these keynotes tend to cover a lot of important topics; the bad news is that they are sometimes short on specifics, and so can feel like sort of a tease. For example, at the end of his keynote, John Chambers stated that they would soon be announcing a new series of certifications designed to bring the skill set of Cisco users into the future. Given my strong belief that the IT organization of 2018 will require significantly different skill sets than is required by today’s IT organizations, I am glad Cisco is doing this and I look forward to seeing more detail.

A more interesting tease occurred in Rob Lloyd’s keynote. Rob is the president of Cisco’s development and sales efforts. At one point in his keynote Rob stated that the company didn’t believe that a software-centric approach to implementing network virtualization made sense. He criticized a software approach as lacking visibility, adding complexity, and resulting in multiple management points. Rob’s declaration is clearly a direct shot across the bow of VMware and its Nicira acquisition. It was fascinating to all of us in the audience that, as Rob discussed why a hardware approach was a more appropriate way to implement network virtualization, the slides he was using referenced Insieme by name, but provided no additional detail. This not-so-subtle tease fueled speculation that when Insieme is officially launched, that it will support network virtualization in hardware. If Insieme does indeed support network virtualization in hardware, that will add to the growing debate in the industry relative to what functions should be done in hardware and what functions should be done in software.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that there was a lot of discussion of Cisco ONE at the conference. However, what I found to be particularly interesting is that in each presentation that I attended, the slides that the speaker used to discuss how they saw the network on a going-forward basis depicted the three-tier architectural approach that is often associated with Cisco ONE. What that said to me is that while Cisco has not yet shipped V1.0 of its SDN controller, the basic SDN concepts are being applied pervasively inside the company.

During his keynote, John Chambers briefly discussed the competitors that Cisco has faced over the last twenty-five years. However, he didn’t identify who he thought would be their biggest competitors going forward. Luckily, I had the opportunity to ask him that question after his keynote, and John stated that it is Cisco’s goal to not just be the number one networking company, but to be the number one IT company. He said that today the top IT companies are IBM, HP, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and Cisco, and added that he expected intense competition between and amongst these companies, and also expected that ten years from now, two or three of them will no longer be on the list of the top IT firms. Given how many large companies over the last decade have either suffered major setbacks or have gone out of business, John is probably right.

Given where the company is today and where it is heading, the way I started this blog was short sighted. I should have asked: Is it possible to be a successful IT professional and not have a deep understanding of what Cisco’s strategy is today and how it is likely to evolve over the next couple of years?

Image credit: Trish2 (DeviantArt)