Rather than summarize the entire discussion that Ken Dulaney and I had with Cisco’s CEO and Chairman, John Chambers on October 14th at Gartner’s Symposium in Orlando, I’d like to focus on two key points that many people may have missed, but should prove to be critical opportunities and challenges for Cisco in the near future.
(Photo by John Costa)
The first is the overall challenge of gaining a “loftier” role in the enterprise. In other words, expanding their influence beyond the networking experts, and increasing their overall value to the enterprise. As servers and storage and networking become more and more virtualized, there is a growing opportunity to provide service level intelligence that automates how the server, storage and networking capacity is orchestrated to meet service level requirements. The risk for Cisco is that the network could be relegated to the role of commodity plumbing (and Cisco’s history of using third parties for network management make this a continued risk). The opportunity is that Cisco could take increased responsibility in providing the intelligence to ensure service levels beyond just the network, including server and storage assets. In other words, turn “the network is the platform” into “the network is the service provider”. This will include, of course, the actual delivery of services (through collaboration software and telepresence, for example). I’m not sure Cisco is focused on this challenge enough – the “Intelligent Information Network” strategy has been there for several years, but I don’t believe they have much to show for it.
The second is the “lofty” opportunity presented by cloud computing, and here I think there is much more promise for Cisco. Cloud computing disintermediates the traditional solution platform providers, such as Microsoft, from customers. Windows isn’t going away, but more and more services will be offered from the cloud, rather than installed and managed on specific on-premises platforms. This seems to me to be a huge opportunity for Cisco to move into market adjacencies, especially software that enables the networking of people or companies. Don’t just think simple collaboration software. Think service brokering across clouds, networking cloud services together to deliver solutions. The opportunity is huge. Is Cisco ready to go for it?
Already, Cisco is promoting their WebEx flagship. And their acquisition of PostPath shows their commitment to extend into many broader areas of services based in software that enable collaboration. As Mr. Chambers said in response to my question, “Cisco is, and will be more.” The only things required are big bets. Mr. Chambers pointed out a significant leadership change at Cisco. In the past, they had two or three major priorities they focused on per year. This year, they have 26 – and his expectation is that these priorities will go from vision to execution much, much faster. Aggressive enough? Maybe.
Cisco likes to focus on market transitions, rather than competitors. Well, here we are. The only question is whether Cisco will place the big bets large and fast enough. My bet is that Cisco will be one of the vendors that flourishes and expands into many new markets as cloud computing becomes a reality.
Here’s an excerpt from the discussion, before we got into the challenges listed above: