Cisco held its annual customer conclave in Las Vegas this week and aside from the actual heat – which averaged about 109 every day – it was clear from the start that security was the hottest topic. As one Cisco exec put it “it’s great to be at what’s becoming quickly the biggest security conference in the world.”
There were of course some other technologies discussed at the show. Here we take a look at some of the hottest topics from Cisco Live.
CEO Chuck Robbins
This is Chuck Robbins first Cisco Live as CEO and he put his stamp on the show. In his keynote he played up all manner of areas Cisco will need to battle in to stay out in front of competitors. In the security realm he said that the two things that are going to be most important in the future are security and innovating over and over quickly. "Our acquisition strategy is core. It's core to our overall innovation strategy," Robbins said. “We’ve bought over 190 companies. Since I was named CEO in May a year ago we’ve actually bought 15, so we’ve been sort of active.”
Most of those acquisitions have been in the areas of security and/or cloud software.
While Cisco touts its software innovation these days, Robbins doesn’t forget about where the money still comes from: “There is a massive global internet that is getting bigger that has more traffic and more connections and more video, more content, and I don’t think you’re going to replace all that high-powered performance with just software.”
Cisco’s focus on security and the acquisition of key companies was on display at Live as the company enhanced key technology it has acquired from technology companies in the past couple years. A couple of the key announcements included Umbrella Roaming which Cisco said is a cloud-delivered protection that is the simplest way to remove off-network blind spots, guarding roaming employees wherever they work. With Umbrella Roaming, now embedded as a module with AnyConnect organizations end users can be blocked from reaching malicious Web sites even when their devices are disconnected from the corporate network. This is technology gleaned from Cisco’s purchase of OpenDNS last year.
Another new security option is Cisco Umbrella Branch, a cloud service that lets users via existing Integrated Services Routers (ISR) perform content filtering and could be used to control what site guests can access when they use branch Wi-Fi. This reduces WAN traffic by making it unnecessary to backhaul branch traffic to a main site for such filtering, Cisco stated.
“Digital business is the most impactful disruption to security in the history of the technology industry. As a result, companies are struggling to manage the security challenges from both large, distributed environments and the active adversaries aggressively targeting these expansive attack surfaces every day. Our customers are finding that they need a more integrated approach to security,” said David Goeckeler, senior vice president and general manager, Networking and Security Business, Cisco.
“Cisco’s security strategy is based on the concepts of simplification and automation to find more threats and then shorten the time to detection and remediation. The company’s “network as a sensor/enforcer” strategy is based on using the network to look for anomalies that would then trigger an action. For example, if a user’s computer accessed the same applications every day and then all of a sudden was trying to connect with an accounting server, that might indicate a threat. At that moment, the machine should be quarantined for further investigation,” wrote Zeus Kerravala, Network World columnist and founder and principal analyst with ZK Research of the Cisco security announcements.
Cisco continues to massage key new capabilities into its Spark collaborative messaging package. At Live, the company said it was working with the messaging company Gupshup and API.AI so more developers can bring their bots into Spark.
The IDG News Service wrote of the announcement: “ Gupshup prides itself on its chat-bot development platform, which is designed to make it easy to build bots and make them available through popular communications channels. The list already includes Facebook, Skype, Twitter and Slack. Bots are hot right now among tech giants and startups alike that are looking for the next big user interface. The goal is to provide a more natural way for consumers or employees to interact with an automated service. Slack, Microsoft Skype, Facebook Messenger and other chat platforms are starting to incorporate this way of communicating, and Cisco doesn’t want to fall behind.”
The Cisco-VMware thaw continues
Once the notion that super competitors Cisco and VMware might work together was laughable, but not so any more it seems. There does seem to be some customer pressure for the two to work together and comments from Cisco execs in the past few months has only fueled such speculation. At Cisco Live Zorawar Biri Singh, CTO and senior vice president for Cisco's Cloud Services and Platforms, said the company has a roadmap that could includes convergence between Cisco's ACI and VMware's NSX platforms.
"There's a set of feature requests that our customers are asking for and the common theme has been. We want to see VMware and Cisco work together closely…I feel very optimistic that we have a pretty good roadmap with our friends at VMware," Singh said.
IBM’s Nicole bot chats with CEO Robbins
IBM blogged that the star if its Cisco Live booth was its own Nicole the Cognitive Robot. “Showcasing Watson’s ability to understand and engage in natural-language conversations, Nicole charmed visitors including Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, who laughed heartily at Nicole’s humor,” IBM said.
Cisco’s new digital assistant
In one of its show wrap-up blogs Cisco talked about a digital assistant in Spark called Monica. “Who is Monica? Monica is a digital assistant who functions within Spark. “Digital assistants work great in the consumer world to make things easier – why not in the business world?” Jens asked. In essence, the team has optimized digital assistant technology for business – trained it with directory and schedule info. Monica can take on tedious tasks so people can get back to their meetings. Expect to hear more about Monica in the coming weeks.”
Kevin Spacey’s pretty darned funny keynote
"You might prefer a 45-minute dissertation on the architectural flexibility of the Nexus 9000 series. And the advantage of a scalable virtual extendable LAN multi-tenancy." Yeah no, really…take a look at the actor’s funny keynote at the end of Live. [It is long – 47 minutes – but the first 10 minutes are pretty good]
What would Cisco Live be without a couple cool bands to entertain the troops. This year it was Maroon 5 and Elle King.
Other Cisco Live! announcements: