This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala's blog.

Cisco kicked off its annual user conference, Cisco Live on Tuesday, June 12th. As it has for the last 10+ years, the event kicked off with a keynote from CEO John Chambers, which is normally one of the highlights of the event. I’ve seen a lot of Chambers keynotes over the years, and there have certainly been many of them, but I felt the keynote lacked some closing punch.

The keynote started out with a bunch of BMX bikers doing stunts to fire up the crowd. It was a very cool attention grabber, and not as cheesy as the roller-skating “Cisco Inferno” of a few years ago. The actual keynote started out with Chambers talking a lot about market transitions and the importance of catching them at the right time. This isn’t a new pitch for Chambers. He’s been talking about the importance of market transitions now for several years.

But this year he took a slightly harsher line on it by saying that “market transitions wait for no one,” and that companies that didn’t catch them would basically die. I believe this has been the key driver to Cisco growth over the past two decades as they caught many transitions, such as the move from hubs to switches, bridges to router, switched voice to VoIP, and the list goes on and on. It’s an important message, particularly for Cisco’s SP customers that have historically been slow to catch transitions.

I also saw a much more aggressive Chambers this year, specifically calling out the fact they picked up 7% share in routing, primarily from Juniper. The Cisco of old rarely called out competition, but this isn’t the Cisco of old. In fact, Chambers showed a chart that displayed a “then and now” of network vendors and listed how different the competitive landscape was two generations ago, last generation and now. I liked the increased focus on competition by Cisco and they’re willingness to point out where they have succeeded and others have failed, and I hope they keep it up.

Additionally, Chambers talked at length about network programmability and software defined networks (SDN). The way Cisco looks at SDN and network programmability is broader than just separation of control plane and data plane. By Cisco’s definition, it extends from the transport layer all the way through the management and orchestration layer. In my opinion, this is the right time for Cisco to flex its muscles, define the market and drive it forward. I think it’s hard to argue that Cisco has other vendors to set the terms of competition. F5 and Riverbed are good examples of where this has happened in the past, so it’s critical that Cisco gets out of in front of SDN and sets the competitive bar where it wants it to be.

What I thought the keynote lacked, though, was a little vision of what’s next and what customers should be doing now. The theme of the event is “What you make possible,” and that’s certainly a good tag line for this era of network programmability combined with social, mobile, cloud and video. However, I think many customers are treading water with all this new stuff and the thought of what’s possible eludes many buyers today.

Here’s where I thought the keynote lacked some punch. I would have liked to have seen some futuristic vision of what’s possible five to ten years from now, which is something I’ve become accustomed to with Cisco. Additionally, I understand the current market transitions Cisco is trying to catch (virtual, visual, mobile and social). But what comes after that? Where are the next transitions?

Overall, I think Cisco is very well positioned, maybe better than at any other time in the past half decade. As promised last year, the company is much better focused on its core. The competitive landscape, outside of a couple of niche areas, has weakened and the company is in the midst of a number of market transitions that Chambers targets so aggressively.

The swagger Chambers showed in his keynote is well deserved; I would have just liked to have seen a bit more of where we go next.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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