The changes aren’t all Robbins’. Cisco had already been emphasizing the big-picture concept of using the network to transform enterprises’ business models. But it’s under Robbins’ watch that Cisco‘s transformation will have to solidify.
With that in mind, here are some of the points that stood out to me as indicative of what Chuck Robbins’ Cisco is becoming.
1. Switches Don’t Matter Like They Used To
Robbins quipped that customers don’t wake up itching to buy switches. That was one of only about three mentions of switches, and I don’t think I heard him mention routers at all.
Cisco still relies on switch sales, of course, but the company’s own transformation, into a software and services entity, is accelerating. Port counts and line speeds aren’t headline news any more. Instead, Robbins hammered on that theme of business transformation, noting that it isn’t happening because people are excited about port counts. “It’s the business issue that’s driving the technology,” he says.
2. Cisco Needs More Outside Help Than Before
Cisco’s strategy for new technologies often got described as a choice to build, buy (that is, acquire someone), or partner. Robbins extended that idea to include Cisco’s startup investments — some of which become acquisitions — and codevelopment agreements with companies like Hitachi and Relayr.
All that help is necessary to cope with the vastness of security, the cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT). To that end, the company is definitely in one of its heavy phases of acquisition, having bought 15 companies since Robbins’ CEO appointment was announced in May 2015.
Results from the Apple alliance, announced in September, have been more vague, so Apple CEO Tim Cook appeared via a prerecorded video to give an update on the deal. He didn’t reveal much. The general goal is to optimize Apple’s iOS devices for Cisco-based networks. Cook mentioned features in the upcoming iOS 10 that would create a fast lane for business applications and make it simpler to configure iOS devices on Cisco networks.
3. Networks Boil Down to DNA
Cisco’s Digital Network Architecture (DNA), announced in March, isn’t so much a product as a philosophy behind the design of networks. Put more crudely, it’s an obsession with automation, analytics, and monitoring, all of which can be now applied at unprecedented levels.
Robbins announced that Cisco has started a DNA user group and will be certifying engineers through a DNA-focused track of the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) program. “We have never brought the application and the network closer together from a visibility perspective,” he says.
This approach also means Cisco will have to pay more attention to applications rather than infrastructure (something Tom Edsall, CTO of Cisco’s Insieme business group, hammered home in a recent interview with SDxCentral).
4. Wow, Jasper Has Some Impressive Numbers
Everybody has an IoT obsession these days, but Cisco can attach some numbers to its capabilities. The $1.4 billion acquisition of Jasper, announced in February, gave Cisco an established IoT presence. Robbins says the platform is adding 1 million devices and 120 enterprise customers every month.
As for why Cisco is a good home for Jasper, Robbins says his company’s ubiquity will be a key to success in IoT.
“It requires a company that understands not only service providers — because that’s where [Jasper] sits, is in the service-provider network — [but also] the enterprise, because you have to aggregate the data, and send it back,” he says. Of course, this also ties into the analytics fascination mentioned above.
5. Collaboration Matters
At SDxCentral, we don’t pay much attention to Cisco’s collaboration business — the part that includes applications such as WebEx and Spark (Cisco’s answer to Slack). But Robbins indicated that this part of the business will soon extend tentacles into the rest of Cisco. The partnership with Apple, too, should help raise the collaboration business’ profile.
“If we’re going to get things connected, perhaps first we should make sure our people are connected,” Robbins says. “I think collaboration and the architecture that’s going to be delivered there will be at the heart of so much of what we do” with smart cities and other digital-transformation projects, he says.