John Chambers on the network

The network is more important today than at any time in history.  In the last 25 years it has had a transformative effect on the way we all live, work, learn and play but I believe it will deliver even greater change in the next decade than it has in the last quarter century.

What gives me the confidence to make that prediction? Let me explain.

Cisco was tiny when Network World first rolled off the presses in 1986. We had just four employees and were still led by our founders out of Stanford. By the time John Morgridge completed his first year as CEO two years later, Cisco was taking off: revenues were $27 million and we had 111 employees.

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In the eight intervening years before I became CEO in 1995, Cisco grew as quickly as the Internet was growing. We opened for business in Belgium, Brasil, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico and the UK, and added almost 4,000 employees as revenues grew to $1.2 billion.

What was behind that rapid growth? Innovation. Real innovation that solved customer problems. Innovation that started with the Aggregated Services Router in 1986, continued with the introduction of the Catalyst family in 1995, and which continues to this very day with Cisco Unified Fabric innovations.

Innovation is what drives all markets and transforms industries. Network-based innovation has been central to every major computing transition in the last 25 years: from mainframe computing to e-commerce, from Web 2.0 to the advent of the real-time, rich media, interactive social Internet.  And I have no doubt it will also be at the heart of every major computing paradigm for the next decade, from today's emerging cloud computing movement, to the post-PC world of highly virtualized IT infrastructures and mobile computing that follows us wherever we go.

Cisco's mass of acquisitions spawned growth, competition

So how can you prepare your network for the challenges of the next 25 years? You do it by understanding where the network and where business is going.

Ask yourself: do I expect video communications to be as ubiquitous in future as voice calls are today? With 91% of global Internet traffic forecast to be Internet video by 2013, I have no doubt about it. Video will not only transform the way we communicate it will become the base (platform) on which much of the future will be built.

And question not whether the number of users and devices on the network will grow, but how fast. We believe there will be more than 7 billion mobile-connected devices by 2015, nearly equal to the world's projected population at that time. The question won't be: who and what is connected to the network? But rather: who and what isn't connected to the network?

And what about security? Do you expect cyber terrorists and cybercriminals to become even more sophisticated in their attacks? Regrettably, the answer is also 'yes', and a network-centric approach to security will become the only way to holistically protect our networks.

And what about the issues your CEO and CFO really care about? They rightly expect more and more business to be conducted virtually, electronically, collaboratively, globally and in real-time on the network.  

Lastly, consider the role networks will certainly play in addressing long-term social and environmental challenges, such as reducing energy use in homes and buildings; or in extending virtual healthcare and education services to those who need it in rapidly urbanizing populations or in rural communities.

Security, quality-of-service, ease of management, media-awareness, energy efficiency, mobility and the ability to provision next-generation business models are not incidental applications of the network. The network is absolutely crucial to enabling the type of IT models that will change how we do business; how we live; how we learn.

However, this future is not assured. Some believe that networking will become an incidental technology; a utility for connectivity; that a ‘quite good’ network will be ‘good enough’.

To those challengers my reply would be this:  When the stability of an entire economy depends on the speed, intelligence, quality of service, robustness and security of its Internet backbone, will a just good network be good enough?

When large businesses can lose an average of 3.6% in annual revenue due to network downtime each year, ask your CFO whether a good network is good enough’.

When patients commonly receive healthcare advice via video in future, will a reasonable connection with the doctor providing advice on a serious issue be good enough?

And ask your kids if an online video game or YouTube clip that constantly hangs is good enough!

It’s very unlikely they will say it is.

Every aspect of the network-centric visions of the future we have discussed depends on our industry's ability to continue to innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible with, and on top of the network platform. The network is at the core of everything we do at Cisco because it is at the core of how our customer's businesses are built. Economic and societal growth demands a bigger, faster, more intelligent network. That network is our business.

If we are successful in that regard, then in 2021, when I'll have been a Network World reader for 35 years, I'm pretty sure even my most ambitious predictions of what our industry could achieve will, once again, have seemed conservative.

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