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Chambers is giddy about IoT, and other takeaways from Cisco Live 2014

Cisco Live 2014
Cisco Live 2014

Cisco held its annual user conference, Cisco Live, last week under the cool but sunny skies of San Francisco. This Live was the 25th Cisco user event (formerly know as Networks) and the largest to date with an estimated 25,000 in attendance and hundreds of thousands attending over the web. Before I was an analyst, I attended Networkers as a way of sharing experiences with other network professionals, as well as learning about what’s new in the world of Cisco and how it might benefit my company as well as my own career. As an analyst, I look at the company through a different lens, but the interaction with the audience was just as or more valuable when I was an IT professional.

As is the case with all large tech vendors, there’s no single point to take away from an event like this, but rather a number highlights based on what you’re looking for. To me, here were my key takeaways.

  • John Chambers isn’t going anywhere. At least not anytime soon. Cisco’s charismatic CEO has come under tremendous fire over the past few years, with some even calling for him to give up his seat at the head of the company. Based on his excitement over a number of upcoming market transitions, such as IoT, cloud, big data and mobility, it was pretty clear that he’s salivating over the opportunity to use these transitions to launch Cisco into the next phase of the company’s history. IoT seems to have given Chambers a burst of energy and enthusiasm that I haven’t seen in a long time. Let’s be clear, he’s here to stay, and based on his track record, he deserves to be.
  • The data center strategy is starting to take shape. It seems like Cisco has been in a constant state of product transition in the data center for the past two years. However, the Nexus 9000 series was finally launched in early 2014, and ACI now has some betas and is due to be released in June. At Cisco Live, I managed to talk to some of the people in the data center business unit, as well as a couple of beta customers, and it appears Cisco’s strategy is to take ACI to the UCS base. Given the architecture of ACI and its ability to import UCS service profiles easily, this seems like a sound strategy and should enable Cisco to ramp its ACI customer count much faster than the other SDN vendors. I think ACI will surprise many doubters over the next several quarters as it makes its way into many major businesses.
  • The Internet of Things is starting to gain traction. It seems the concept of IoT is something that we’ve talked about now for over a decade, but it’s always seemed to be way out in the future. I had a number of people ask me skeptically, why now? It’s a totally fair question given how long we’ve been talking about IoT. The fact is there’s no single factor making IoT a reality. Instead, multiple forces are coming together, including the shift to IP connectivity, pervasive wireless, better analytics, and low-cost silicon to connect virtually anything. At Cisco Live, there were a number of demonstrations and examples of IoT, and it seems that IoT stands on the verge of going from vision to reality.
  • Cisco collaboration is set up for a rebound. The once-red-hot Cisco Collaboration Business Unit has been in decline for a couple of years now. Part of the issue is Microsoft Lync’s aggressiveness, but an equally important factor is that the group hasn’t had a significant product launch in years. Between the Enterprise Connect conference and Cisco Live, Cisco has completely revamped its collaboration portfolio, including the launch of the DX70 and DX80 at the Live conference. I had a chance to sit down with the GM of the group, Rowan Trollope, and we discussed the importance of focusing on the little things as well as the big things. Cisco has always been a good technology company, but it has made the products difficult, if not cumbersome, to use because the attention to detail just wasn’t there. Mr. Trollope’s influence over the group has manifested itself into products that are easy to use and sleek in design, and should be a catalyst for the collaboration group to rebound.
  • Cisco is shifting to a services-led model. Mobile and cloud computing are both network-centric compute models. This means the network is becoming a more strategic asset for many organizations. However, networking has also become more complex and many network professionals struggle to manage, secure, and operate the network within these new compute paradigms. I talked to a number of Cisco customers at the event that have adopted or are considering Cisco cloud services. WebEx is already the de facto standard for Web collaboration, but expect to see Cisco get aggressive with cloud service as it pushes forward with its Intercloud strategy. Additionally, Cisco continues to grow its professional and advanced services portfolio in both breadth and depth, as it becomes a key enabler of Cisco technology. Cisco has already tweaked its channel compensation plans to include cloud services, although shifting the channel will be a much bigger challenge than driving customer demand.
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