Final thoughts from Cisco Live 2023: The platform’s the thing

This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala – SiliconANGLE.

Cisco Systems Inc. will hold its annual Cisco Live user event next week in Las Vegas as the networking giant is coming off an impressive quarter in which Chief Executive Chuck Robbins (pictured) set a more than positive outlook for the company.

Given that the secular trends of cloud, mobility and hybrid work act as long-term tailwinds, I’m expecting the company to load up this year’s Cisco Live with announcements that sets itself up for many years. Here are some of the key themes I’m expecting from Cisco Live 2023:

Security evolution

Of all the product areas, I’m most interested to see what Cisco announces in security. In my security platform post, I mentioned that security provides the biggest needle-moving opportunity, since the company currently has single-digit share in a massive market. For Cisco, security innovation is less about new products and more about integration across its broad range of existing products.

The company announced XDR at the RSA Conference recently, and now it needs to build on that to make using Cisco security operationally simpler. Also, the prevailing trend is now toward a security platform, so any coupling that Cisco can do to tie security to its massive network installed base will only help it gain on the likes of Palo Alto Networks Inc. and Fortinet Inc.

The new security leadership at Cisco, which includes Jeetu Patel and Tom Gillis, seems well aware of what’s at stake. I’m hopeful that when Cisco Live is over, security will dominate the product news.

Artificial intelligence

One can’t go to an event this year without hearing about AI. Although I’m not expecting Cisco to hit the audience over the head with AI, I do expect it will be a major theme of how it will use it to evolve its products.

In reality, Cisco has been using machine learning and AI for years to modernize its products. Its encrypted traffic analytics uses AI, as does its XDR offering. Cisco Webex uses AI for many core features, including noise block, transcription and translation. Also, its network automation and intent-based capabilities require AI to translate network telemetry into actionable tasks.

I’m sure most of the products announced at Cisco Live will include AI in some manner. The only question is how overt Cisco will be about it, given the current market hype.

The other aspect of AI that could be introduced is generative AI and how Cisco will use it to improve its products. The tie-in to Webex is obvious, as a worker can use it to find information or create content. With networking and security, Cisco’s operational dashboards could feature a ChatGPT-like interface to identify and solve problems. Given the R&D time required with infrastructure, I’m not expecting a big dose of generative AI.

Continued simplification of networking

If there were a market tracker for “single panes of glass,” Cisco would be the runaway leader, as it seems to have a dashboard for everything. At Cisco Live 2022, the company took its first step in addressing this by integrating Catalyst and Meraki, where administrators could see Catalyst devices in the Meraki dashboard.

We are a year removed from that, and we should see product areas addressed, including Cisco Spaces (formerly DNA), Viptela SD-WAN and Wi-Fi. Like with security, product breadth isn’t Cisco’s problem because it has a broader portfolio than any other network vendor, but it has made it operationally very difficult for customers to use multiple Cisco products. The pace of change in information technology is faster than ever, and improved cross-platform operations will help Cisco network engineers align operations with business demands.

More ThousandEyes and AppDynamics

ThousandEyes and “AppD” enable Cisco customers to “see” where no network engineer has seen before. ThousandEyes provides visibility across the internet, which wasn’t necessary a decade ago, but the cloud and software-defined wide-area network changed that. IT pros are responsible for user and customer experience, and the internet is widely used for business traffic, making it critical for network professionals to have granular visibility.

AppD is an application performance product, and one might wonder why a network vendor would care about apps. An understanding of application behavior can help network and security pros prioritize tasks. For example, its business risk observability offering announced at Cisco Live EMEA earlier this year can map vulnerabilities and threat intelligence to business context, helping security engineers understand where to prioritize activities. AppD information should be the lens through which almost all Cisco information is viewed, as it can translate between telemetry and business performance.

Environmental, social and governance update

Cisco has had a strong focus on ESG long before it was in vogue. Its mission of making the world a better place dates back decades to when then-CEO John Chambers used to talk about how the internet could be used to democratize education, creating opportunities where none existed before. Under Robbins, Cisco has stepped up its ESG game with aggressive goals of the number of people it could positively affect.

There hasn’t been a Cisco Live under Robbins where ESG hasn’t been a key topic area, and I have no reason to assume that will change. Of all the areas that fall under ESG, sustainability is the one many businesses struggle with today. At IBM Think, CEO Arvind Krishna highlighted that its data showed that there was a massive gap between their customer’s goals and their ability to execute on those goals.

Cisco has been designing its product with sustainability in mind, including power-saving and efficiency features. The exhibit hall at Cisco Live EMEA featured a sustainability zone, and I would expect the same in Las Vegas to help customers understand what’s possible today.

I’m sure there will be some new products announced at Cisco Live, but the theme of this year’s event should be cross-product innovation. At $60 billion in revenue, Cisco has a massive portfolio of products that address everything from data centers to telco networks to cloud to campus networks. Cisco leadership has continually touted the importance of making the products easier to use, which is not a trivial thing to do, but it is what I’m expecting at Cisco Live 2023 in Las Vegas.

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.