Cisco Systems Inc.’s Cisco Live EMEA conference last week in Amsterdam was filled with new products, many of which were highlighted in my earlier SiliconANGLE post. Although product announcements are interesting, what’s equally valuable are the underlying themes that are pervasive across the event. One of these was that the network is now critical to digital transformation.
Many of the building blocks of digital transformation, such as the “internet of things,” mobility and cloud are network-centric in nature. That means network modernization is an important component of digital initiatives. This sentiment was echoed by Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Jim Farley at the Las Vegas Cisco Live last June. He mentioned that the rise of the connected car enables Ford, for the first time, to deliver new features and capabilities to a finished product. At Cisco Live EMEA, Vincenzo Ranieri, CEO of distribution for Enel Energy, and Greg Swiner, chief technology officer of City Football Group, both discussed how the network has enabled them to change the way they deal with customers and deliver new services faster than before.
It’s important to note that the rise of the network is not Cisco-specific but rather an industry rising tide. Arista Networks Inc., Extreme Networks Inc., Juniper Networks Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co.’s enterprise networking businesses have all seen strong growth. It has been an interesting past few quarters because so many tech companies are seeing a slowing down of their business and doing double-digit layoffs, but that’s not the case with the network.
The rise of the network is interesting, but this has been an ongoing trend for the past year or so. I thought there were five other trends worth pointing out that were more specific to the event:
- Cisco is finally leveraging AppDynamics. When Cisco bought AppD a little over five years ago, I thought it would become the tip of the sales arrow for Cisco. The company has been touting “selling outcomes” and AppD provides the perfect lens to view the outcomes through. Want to sell a network upgrade? AppD can show you the impact of the investment in business terms. At the event Cisco announced Business risk observability, which uses AppD information plus other sources of data from Cisco to help security teams prioritize vulnerabilities. During a Q&A with analysts, I asked Cisco Chief Strategy Officer Liz Centoni about future plans for AppD, and though she didn’t provide specifics, she did acknowledge the benefits application information brings to Cisco as a company and indicated we should see more soon. I’ll be on the lookout for something at Cisco Live in June.
- Country Digital Acceleration gives Cisco a unique edge in networking. For those not familiar with CDA, Cisco works with government leaders to help digitize the country. Cisco will often kick in an initial investment with the assumption business will come later. At the event, Cisco took press and analysts to the Port of Rotterdam, which is the busiest shipping port in the world. Cisco has been working with the Port Authority to fully digitize and automate operations. In fact, Rotterdam wants to be the first port to accept a fully autonomous ship by 2040. The scale and magnitude of this project was more than impressive as it includes a massive IoT deployment, artificial intelligence, quantum computing for security and more. There isn’t another network vendor with the resources to work at a country level giving Cisco a unique edge with its networking peers. In fact, only Microsoft Corp. and Amazon Web Services Inc. are broad enough and have enough resources to replicate CDA, although I do not believe either has similar programs.
- Sustainability is a big theme in Europe and should be more prominent in the U.S. The topic of sustainability is something most business and information technology leaders bring up with me today. although European organizations are further along than U.S. ones. In fact, domestically, I find the level of inquiry to be a couple of years behind Europe. This makes sense given the cost of power, the country mandates and social pressures. As a company, Cisco has set its own goal of being net zero across its value chain by 2040. The company also appointed Mary de Wysocki to be its first chief sustainability officer and named Denise Lee vice president of Cisco’s Engineering Sustainability Office. Cisco has also implemented buyback programs and recycles 99.998% of used equipment and rolled out channel certification programs. With Cisco being so active with sustainability, I’m hoping it created a trickle-down effect to U.S. companies where it becomes a part of the request-for-proposal process.
- Cisco has embraced openness and interoperability. For years, decades even, competitors accused Cisco of being closed and proprietary. This is one reason why other vendors will often cite “vendor lock-in” when competing against Cisco. Although that may have been true in the past, Cisco has flipped the open switch. One of the collaboration announcements at the event was that Cisco endpoints now work with Microsoft Teams. Even suggesting this in the past would have been heresy inside Cisco’s walls. But now Cisco devices now have native interoperability with Teams, Zoom and Google, enabling customers to run the platform of their choice on its endpoints. Also, during her keynote, Centoni discussed how Cisco is a major contributor to OpenTelemetry. On the security side, Cisco’s Talos group shares threat intelligence with other vendors, which is something all security vendors should do.
- More work to do in security. Threat protection has changed. It’s no longer about who can build signatures to known threats the fastest. Rather, it’s which vendor can analyze its data, from its security platform, to find zero-day exploits and shut them down before they affect business operations. Given that network information is a key data source, one would think Cisco would have a unique advantage over the other cyber vendors. But the opposite has happened, where both Palo Alto Networks Inc. and Fortinet Inc. have seen their software-defined wide-area network businesses grow as networking and security have come together. Security presents the biggest needle-moving opportunity for Cisco, but it needs to create much tighter linkages between Cisco and networking. I talked with Cisco’s new security chief, Tom Gillis, about this and he promised me it’s coming. With the RSA Conference around the corner, I’m hopeful we see something by then.