Cisco’s greatest hits, 2015

2015 was an extremely busy year for Cisco, with the CEO and executive leadership transition, major partnerships and product introductions.

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Stephen Lawson

A lot of changes at Cisco

2015 was an extremely busy year for Cisco, with the CEO and executive leadership transition, major partnerships and product introductions, major product cancellations, competitive and strategic positioning and, of course, acquisitions. Here’s a chronological review of Cisco’s biggest hits of the year.

CES

Cisco kicks off the year with another video splash at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by announcing alliances and demos with content providers underscore commitment to consumer video. The company announced deals with Charter, Proximus and Kabel Deutschland; and products, including a cloud-based security suite, a digital rights management solution, and a targeted advertising system for Sky, a European content provider.

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Cisco ONE

Cisco officially announces the Cisco ONE software licensing strategy, which leverages the company’s installed hardware base as the “real estate” on which to build. The Cisco ONE licensing plan is the foundation for the company’s Enterprise Licensing Agreement procurement model.

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An Alternative Fabric

Cisco introduces a new control plane capability for its Nexus 9000 switches for customers not yet opting for or needing a full-blown application policy infrastructure. Cisco’s BGP Control Plane for VXLAN is designed to appeal to operators of multitenant clouds looking for familiar BGP routing protocol features with which to scale their networks and make them more flexible for the demands of cloud networking.

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Open Network Install Environment

Cisco posts and then withdraws an internally authored white paper hinting at eventual support for the Open Network Install Environment (ONIE), a component of the Open Compute Platform project for installing software, including operating systems from multiple vendors, on bare metal Ethernet network switches. ONIE would run on standalone mode NX-OS Nexus 9000 switches and provide them with a boot install option for programmability. The whitepaper did not state anything about ONIE bringing up a switch running an operating system other than NX-OS, however. It does indicate that Cisco has been working with ONIE and stands ready to support it on the Nexus 9000s if it chooses to.

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VCE

VMware NSX on VCE

Cisco’s VCE converged IT infrastructure joint venture with EMC and VMware unveils the VxBlock line of products, which allow users to deploy VMware’s NSX network virtualization system or Cisco’s ACI… even though ACI is not yet available on VCE systems. The move, which was expected, comes after Cisco reduces its stake in VCE from 35% to 10% following increasing competitive conflict between Cisco, EMC and VMware.

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Paul Perez replaced

Cisco replaces UCS server head Paul Perez and loses two UCS software executives who came over to the company from its Cloupia acquisition. Perez eventually lands at Dell, while the ex-Cloupia officials are believed to be forming a start-up company together.

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COBO

Cisco is part of a group of big-name vendors – including Microsoft, Dell, Intel, Broadcom, Juniper and Arista Networks -- creating a consortium to address switch faceplate bandwidth density and airflow constraints caused by increasing networking speeds. The Consortium for On-Board Optics (COBO) is promoting collaboration in defining industry standards that permit relocating the optical module from the faceplate to inside the networking equipment where economic and environmental benefits can be achieved.

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Threat protection

Cisco provides threat protection for data centers and clouds by integrating acquired security technology with its programmable, policy-based networking portfolio. Cisco combines the FirePOWER threat protection services software obtained from the 2013 acquisition of Sourcefire with its Application Centric Infrastructure automated policy fabric. The result is intended to provide intrusion prevention and malware protection for data center and cloud applications via ACI’s group-based policies.

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Tropo acquisition

Cisco announces intentions to acquire Tropo, a developer of software designed to embed real-time communications within cloud applications. Tropo’s software simplifies the addition of real-time communications and collaboration capabilities within applications, a capability Cisco says will accelerate real-time communications through the cloud from any device.

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REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

Workaround sanctions

Reports surface that Cisco bypassed US sanctions on Russia to continue sales into that country. The company allegedly set up ghost buyers and falsified records to sell to Russian army and security organizations, in violation of US sanctions. Cisco denied any wrongdoing and any knowledge of the scheme, which was reportedly perpetrated by its Russian operations.

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Piston Cloud buy

Cisco acquires OpenStack pioneer Piston Cloud to help build out its hybrid OpenStack cloud capabilities. Piston Cloud offers an OpenStack private cloud distribution designed for automated deployment, security and interoperability with public clouds that are also built on OpenStack. Cisco says Piston Cloud will augment its Intercloud strategy of delivering a global network of interconnected clouds, and especially an OpenStack-based private cloud. The acquisition dovetails with Cisco’s earlier purchase of Metacloud for OpenStack-as-a-Service.

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Security everywhere

Cisco announces the Security Everywhere initiative to instrument the network from the data center out to endpoints, branch offices, the cloud, and pretty much every connected element in the Internet of Everything. Cisco says it will embed device-level threat detection as a precursor to a larger integrated threat defense architecture.

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SDN offerings

At Cisco Live, the company broadens its SDN offerings to appeal to three target markets: mass market – commercial, enterprise and public sector customers – service providers and mega-scale data centers. The rollout includes VMware and Microsoft extensions, a controller for BGP EVPN fabrics, and “open” NX-OS for the mega-scale data centers.

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Router crash landing

United Airlines is crippled by a router outage and it appears to have been a Cisco router. United had to ground flights for an hour and 20 minutes due to “degraded network connectivity for various applications.” Cisco did not confirm that the affected node was a Cisco router but said it was offering assistance. United’s disruption was one of three that day: the New York Stock Exchange and the Wall Street Journal were also hit with technical glitches.

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Sold set-top box business

Cisco sells its set-top box business, obtained from 2005’s $6.9 billion purchase of Scientific-Atlanta, to Technicolor for $600 million. The sale could include the transfer of up to 790 jobs. It gets Cisco out of a struggling $2 billion business that was viewed as a distraction and a drag on the company’s financial results.

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Bye, bye Invicta

Cisco kills its Invicta flash storage product line after acquiring the technology in 2013 with the $415 million purchase of WHIPTAIL. Invicta was pulled from the market in 2014 after having scaling issues, and then reinserted.

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Who is in charge?

Questions arise as to who at Cisco really has authority over major product direction decisions when it’s revealed that star spin-in engineers still report to Executive Chairman and ex-CEO John Chambers and not to new CEO Chuck Robbins. Cisco responds by saying that Chambers reports to Robbins, which reveals an even more curious executive reporting arrangement for a large, public multinational.

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Apple

Partners

Cisco and Apple form a partnership to prioritize Apple iOS mobile applications on Cisco enterprise networks. The deal is a recognition that 30% of business voice calls are mobile, and that many mobile devices fill in for office desktops. The plan is clear but the timeline is not.

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Cloud group

Cisco reorganizes its Internet of Everything and cloud groups to streamline operations. Cisco consolidates all of its IoE software businesses under Rowan Trollope, currently senior vice president and general manager of the company’s Collaboration Technology Group. The company also consolidates three separate cloud organizations under one executive – Yvette Kanouff, senior vice president and general manager of the company’s Service Provider Video Software & Solutions Group. The move reassigns Kip Compton, vice president and general manager of IoT Systems and Software.

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Clare Haney

Venture with Chinese IT vendor

Cisco forms a $100 million joint venture with Inspur, a Chinese IT vendor. It’s part of an earlier announced plan to invest $10 billion in China as CEO Robbins remains bullish on the partnership opportunity there despite previous tensions.

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1,000th customer

Cisco lands its 1,000th SDN customer, Danske Bank of Copenhagen, Denmark. With 1,000 customers for its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) SDN solution in 14 months, Cisco is on a 2:1 pace vs. VMware’s NSX, which enlisted 700 customers in 22 to 24 months.

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Nick Barber

Supplying AT&T

Cisco is named, along with Juniper and Brocade, as a supplier for AT&T’s virtualized CPE project. The vendors will develop virtualized interpretations of their respective routers for AT&T’s SDN CPE project. AT&T plans to run the routers as virtualized network functions (VNF) on bare metal hardware running at AT&T operating system and software control stack. The VNF CPE is a component of AT&T’s larger SDN/NFV project known as Network on Demand, or Domain 2.0.

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Foiled

Cisco disrupts a $60 million ransomware business by disabling a distributor of the Angler ransomware exploit kit. Cisco's Talos security unit discovered that computers infected with the Angler Exploit Kit were connecting to servers at Limestone Networks, a Dallas hosting provider. Cisco shut down access for customers by updating products to stop redirects to the Angler proxy servers, and took other actions to thwart the operation.

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Blockbuster on the horizon?

Following rival Dell’s plan to buy storage titan and Cisco partner EMC for $67 billion, questions arise as to whether Cisco needs to respond with a blockbuster acquisition or tighter partnership with NetApp, among other players. But the Dell/EMC marriage is seen as a bigger issue for vendors like HP who have close ties to EMC’s VMware business.

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Opening the wallet

Cisco acquires three companies in a week, highlighted by a $452 million offer for Lancope, a developer of network visibility and threat detection technology. The other two companies are ParStream, for its Internet of Things data gathering and analysis wares, and 1 Mainstream, a privately-held provider of cloud-based video.

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Cisco and Ericsson again

Cisco and Ericsson form yet another alliance as a direct response to the Nokia/Alcatel-Lucent merger, but also as an indirect indicator of how Cisco plans to counteract IT mega-mergers like Dell/EMC. The companies outlined a broad, multi-faceted relationship to combine their respective strengths in routing, enterprise networking, wireless, data center, cloud, management and control, and global services to deliver integrated systems for service providers, mobile enterprises, and Internet of Things opportunities. It is at least the third tie-up between Cisco and Ericsson: in 2004, the companies signed a multi-year agreement to jointly sell IP infrastructure equipment to telecommunications service providers; and in 1996, Cisco and Ericsson announced an alliance to collaborate on the development and exploration of wireless Internet services.

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Spin-ins

In an interview, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins says he favors small internal start-ups to funding and acquiring spin-in companies for product innovation. Spin-ins were a controversial yet lucrative strategy embraced by predecessor John Chambers. Robbins also reflects on Cisco’s move to a more software-type model of selling products and services delivered “as-a-service” from the cloud and through enterprise license agreements.

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Internal start-up evidence

Robbins says evidence of the internal start-up mode of innovation can be found in a new release of Cisco’s IOS XR router software, which features improved programmability and tighter integration with popular IT configuration and management tools. The software was developed with some leading web companies, based on their operational best practices, but Cisco did not identify which ones.

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Certification program

Cisco updates its certification program reflect the changing skills sets needed as the industry moves to Internet of Things, cloud and network programmability. The company’s Cisco Certified Internet Expert (CCIE) Data Center and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Security have been “refreshed” to reflect these new disciplines.

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Acquires Acano

Cisco spends $700 million to acquire Acano, a privately held company that provides collaboration infrastructure and conferencing software. Cisco says acquiring Acano will support its collaboration strategy of delivering video to multiple interoperable endpoints, screens and workspaces, at scale.

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Tracker taken offline

Cisco takes its training certification tracker offline after a “limited” data breach at Pearson VUE, which maintains the system for Cisco and other companies. Cisco says the breach exposed only the names, addresses, e-mail addresses and phone numbers of CCIE, CCNA, CCNP and other Cisco certification candidates. Certification testing tools themselves have not been affected.

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New software releases

Cisco rolls out new software releases for its Nexus 9000 switches and ACI SDN that feature enhanced integration with VMware environments and support for Docker containers. The software is intended to further extend the capabilities of ACI into multivendor environments where a variety of hypervisors, cloud management platforms and workloads – physical, virtual or container-based – exist.