Analyzing all the security and AI news from Cisco Live EMEA 2024

This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala – SiliconANGLE.

As usual, Cisco Systems Inc.‘s annual user conference, Cisco Live EMEA in Amsterdam, serves as a platform for the networking giant to release the latest innovations across many of its product lines.

Although this event is considerably smaller than the U.S. Cisco Live, it’s important for the company as Europe, the Middle East and Africa is a highly diverse region spread out across 120 countries. The region has a new leader for this year’s event, Oliver Tuszik, who previously ran Cisco’s partner organization and is now head honcho for the EMEA region. In a pre-briefing, Tuszik said the theme for the 2024 event is “Let’s Go” and explained that meant, “Don’t wait and don’t stand still as there are opportunities out there.”

All the new products and services announced were designed to help customers “go.” To me, the lead item was the innovations in security, for several reasons.

First, over the past 18 months, Cisco has completely retooled its security business under the leadership of Jeetu Patel and Tom Gillis. What was once a hodgepodge of products is now being delivered as three suites – user, cloud and breach protection — from a security cloud, which gets data from Cisco’s firewall business.

The second reason the news at Cisco Live EMEA is so critical is that security represents the single, biggest needle-moving opportunity for the company. The market is massive and highly fragmented, so even mediocre execution could significantly affect the top and bottom lines.

The most notable security announcement was the release of Cisco Identity Intelligence to help businesses deal with hackers who exploit identity. During the briefing, Matt Caufield, vice president of product management for identity security, put up a slide asking, “Why hack in when you can simply log in?” referring to the growing number of breaches that come by stealing a user’s credentials.

With phishing getting more sophisticated, more and more users are giving up their identities. This can be hard to catch because there is a diverse ecosystem of identity systems, with no visibility across the landscape and excessive privileges where many users have access to everything.

Cisco’s Identity Intelligence understands the “attack surface” for identity. It accomplishes this through an ecosystem play where it integrates with all the major identity providers, including Okta Inc., Microsoft Corp., Zscaler Inc., Inc. and others, as well as Cisco ISE.

With that information, Cisco Identity Intelligence can discover users, connected machines, applications and services, as well as the relationship between them. More importantly, this is how Cisco can differentiate the behavior of those things, how they interact, which user is touching which application, and from which network. This enables Cisco to limit user access to only the resources they need access to.

Also announced was the Cisco AI Assistant for Secure Access. The idea here is that, through natural language, security administrators can simplify the process of creating rules and policies. For example, a security engineer could tell the assistant to “Deny access to all gambling sites and call the rule “no gambling access,” and the AI Assistant would handle the technical details. This can greatly speed up policy administration and remove human error.

Another security-related product is the new Secure Access: Experience Insights, where Cisco is inferring user experience using ThousandEyes data. An industry trend is for digital experience monitoring to be part of the security stack. While other security vendors have rolled out experience monitoring tools, ThousandEyes gives Cisco a unique edge as it monitors internet-based traffic, which can complement on-net information.

Broadening the use of ThousandEyes is something customers and partners have been asking for. Last year, I asked Joe Berger, vice president of World Wide Technology‘s Digital Experience Practice, what he would like to see from Cisco. “More ThousandEyes in more places,” he said, so it’s good to see Cisco bringing it to the security portfolio.

The last notable bit of security news is Multicloud Defense, which simplifies deploying security across different cloud environments. A more technically accurate name would have been “Hybrid Multicloud Defense,” since this offering enables security pros to create a single policy that can span private clouds and public cloud services such as Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure.

On the non-security front, Cisco is diving deep into artificial intelligence infrastructure. At the event, the company announced new Cisco Validated Designs or CVDs, blueprints for deploying the infrastructure to support AI deployments. Data center infrastructure has become increasingly more disaggregated, making getting all the components to work optimally very difficult. CVDs are designed to provide a turnkey blueprint to ensure customers are deploying the technology correctly, eliminating the months of tweaking and tuning.

Also, Cisco and Nvidia Corp. have expanded their partnership with an integrated offering that combines software and networking hardware to help customers quickly deploy the right infrastructure for AI applications. The partnership leverages Ethernet networking and gives customers an alternative to Infiniband. There is tremendous industry debate over Infiniband and Ethernet, and both have a place in AI. The partnership with Cisco gives Nvidia customers access to both.

This was a strong set of announcements for Cisco because they simplify AI and security, two of the biggest pain points for information technology organizations. For a company the size of Cisco, it has shown a high level of nimbleness in transitioning their strategy. Splunk is coming, and though it can’t talk about it, I’m expecting that acquisition to affect almost every part of Cisco’s business.

Author: 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.