A Reflection Of What I Learned At Cisco Live: Growing Up Isn't Easy

Even though CiscoLive was a month ago, I’m getting a lot of inquiry calls from clients asking me what I thought and what does Cisco’s megalaunch mean to them. I feel Cisco’s emerging out of their teenage years of taking things for granted and is getting down to business. But is it too late? I don’t think so, but Cisco has a lot of work ahead of them to win the hearts and minds of infrastructure and operations personnel. On some strong indicators that positive change is in action, I&O managers can hang their hats on Cisco in three areas:

  • Vision. If there is one attribute that customers can bank on, Cisco always delivers a vision and helps provide a road map for enterprises on what networking professionals should expect to see their networks support. In general, their visions provide a guide light on value beyond the sea of commodity issues: price, features, and speed.
  • Operations. Cisco’s drive toward consolidating its own operations and dissolving technology silos into services is in alignment with what enterprises need to do and where technology solutions must evolve. Cisco is blending teams into five areas: 1) core routing/switching innovation and optimization; 2) collaboration solutions ; 3) virtualization (including data center and cloud) technologies; 4) video as a primary communication medium and IT task; and 5) architecture — defining and delivering IT architecture for businesses and service providers. I&O managers can expect to see much more integrated and simplified solutions. This should help enterprises reduce the overhead associated with long deployment times and expensive services built on complicated solutions.
  • Technology. Just as companies transitioned from building their own PCs, infrastructure and operations transition themselves from cobbling together wired with wireless, voice, or security.  Plain and simple, enterprises are moving to purchasing converged solutions like ones found in the data center.  CIOs don’t want their teams testing and building “kit” infrastructures.  Cisco is on the right track by converging wired and wireless to create services like connectivity. Forrester has proven in TEI research that customer operational cost and business risk decrease while productivity of end users increases.

This doesn’t mean Cisco is the right partner for all customers. Interesting enough, I&O managers should approach Cisco cautiously and evaluate each of the same areas from the technology back up to overall vision:

  • Vision: Some teams within in Cisco are already evangelizing that solutions have to focus on more than making IT seem cool or apps run better. They understand that, ultimately, the technology will or will not get used based on the end user’s experience.  Cisco’s overall vision lacks the connectivity to solving business issues and ensuring that Cisco creates what the user expects to experience in leveraging Cisco solutions. I&O managers might find it hard to justify buying Cisco internally if Cisco can’t help them connect the dots: business to technology values.
  • Operations. Technology architecture guides and blueprints are of great value, but most issues within a company center on people, process, and organization. Cisco has the opportunity to capture its transition from product development technology silos to service solutions and share the best practices with its customers. Forrester’s research shows that most networking personnel are on the outside looking in and wondering if they will be left behind. I&O teams are struggling to transition their operations and personnel structures and are hungry to partner with any vendor who understands this new paradigm.
  • Technology. Although Cisco is trying to shore up its foundation (traditional campus and branch switching and routing), it missed an opportunity to move beyond a speeds and price, which just leads it into a price war with other vendors. Cisco is months if not a year ahead of other networking vendors offering a dynamic, flexible, and services orchestrated fabric in the data center. Those plug-and-play capabilities need to extend to the campus and branch environment.  Instead of purchasing faster and bigger blades and fabrics, customers would continue to pay the price premium for end-to-end infrastructure that exhibits the same traits of the data center network.

Microsoft was raked over the coals half a decade back, and Cisco is going through the same experience.  A lot of the criticism should have come up a few years ago when Cisco’s products were getting long in the tooth and there were 40 priorities. Either due to global economic climate or a slow erosion of market share to Juniper, Arista, and others, Cisco is just becoming a larger, more mature company. It’s leaving its adolescence and entering adulthood, “sounding very much like a mature market leader as it balances risks and rewards in the rapidly changing markets for networking and collaboration” (see Henry Dewing’s blog, Cisco Strategy Evolves and Tactics Mature). Cisco’s current state with I&O professionals reminds me of Lewis Hershey’s quote: “A boy becomes an adult about two years after he thinks he does, and three years before his parents think he does.”