Thoughts From Cisco’s C-Scape

Rob It’s that time of year. You know: shopping for the holidays, wrapping up end-of-year projects, and the annual Cisco analyst conference, now called C-Scape. OK, so maybe it’s not that big, but it has become an interesting event that acts a proxy for the overall networking industry. This year was a dramatic difference from years past. Namely, it was a lot more conversation with many more panels and breakouts. However, it was also noteworthy in that there was really no news! Cisco didn’t use this as a venue to announce any products or major initiatives. In fact, when I bumped into Matt Hamblen he commented that many of the journalists in attendance were bored! However, there were some interesting nuggets for those that follow Cisco:

  • Chambers made the “next market transition” feel real.John Chambers loves to get up and give what my colleague, Chris Mines, calls the “Internet economics pitch.” Basically, he talks about how the network/Internet underscores global productivity and he’s predicting another period of 4-5% in worldwide productivity gains. Sounds good, but John is also an excellent, charismatic salesman. This year, though, he did a much better job to create a panel to discuss this trend (conveniently held via TelePresence). The result was a much more tangible impression for this market transition, which Cisco is equating to Web 2.0. Going into C-Scape I felt Cisco was riding a trend. Leaving, I feel like in typical Chambers fashion they are correctly predicting the next major market transition that will fuel their growth.
  • They finally defined Web 2.0! It was brief, but a quick definition was flashed up that read “technologies that enable user collaboration.” This was a much needed reality check. Before, it felt like Cisco was using fuzzy logic, along the lines of: Web 2.0 = collaboration = video = TelePresence. However, they did a much better job of weaving unified communications, WebEx, podcasts, and a few other Web 2.0 components to make me feel like they’re actually in tune with the broader scope.
  • But they still overused virtualization. Any brownie points they gained on Web 2.0, they lost on “virtualization.” Chambers defined virtualization as “Any content to any device across any network” (or something like that). I guess that technically fits the textbook definition of virtualization, but it’s not the market’s definition. This could be an example of John being ahead of the market again, but it left me thinking they are contorting virtualization to fit a more Cisco-friendly content. Shocking!
  • Giancarlo gave a good overview of the new development organization. Charlie Giancarlo usually gets up and gives a good vision and strategy speech right after Chambers. However, this year he did it with the help of his entire development organization. Why is this important? I finally feel like there’s a good bench of executives that are in-tune with the new company strategy. They talked at length about collaboration, video, and the shift towards a more software-oriented business model (which we predicted).

I think this last point was perhaps the most subtle, yet important, takeaway from the whole event. Cisco is finally moving to a company that no longer rises and falls with just Chambers. One notable omission from leadership, though, was the newly acquired CTO, Padmasree Warrior. A new addition to Cisco from networking competitor Motorola, her presence and the lack of even a mention of her name seemed strange. Is there something holding up her formal debut? Is this a result of a non-compete?

By Robert Whiteley

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