Cisco Unveils $1B AI Startup Investment Fund, New AI Partnership With Nvidia

‘[AI is] changing the way businesses communicate with each other. It’s changing the way they leverage technology. And at Cisco, we believe we have a very significant role to play here in really being the trusted partner to help our customers navigate this new era of AI,’ says Mark Patterson, Cisco’s executive vice president and chief strategy officer.

AI is taking center stage as networking and cloud giant Cisco Systems opens its annual Cisco Live conference this week in Las Vegas.

Cisco Tuesday unveiled a new $1 billion global AI investment fund targeting strategic investments in startup companies that build offerings based on Cisco’s strategy and infrastructure.

The San Jose, Calif.-based company also unveiled the Cisco Nexus HyperFabric AI cluster offering that brings together Cisco AI-native networking with Nvidia’s accelerated computing and AI software and storage built by Vast Data.

[Related: Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins: Moving Fast To Win The AI Battle]

AI is fundamentally changing every industry, said Mark Patterson, Cisco’s executive vice president and chief strategy officer, during a Cisco Live analyst conference.

“[AI is] changing the way businesses communicate with each other,” Patterson said. “It’s changing the way they leverage technology. And at Cisco, we believe we have a very significant role to play here in really being the trusted partner to help our customers navigate this new era of AI.”

Cisco continues to innovate around AI in such areas as building an integrated stack of servers and storage and networking with common management and security to help businesses easily deploy their AI models, Patterson said. Cisco is working to secure AI as it brings high-value data together, he said.

“We’re building AI capabilities into our entire cybersecurity portfolio to help them as well,” he said. “And then they need data to really bring value to AI and unlock insights. And we think this combination of Cisco and Splunk is really game-changing and helping them do that. They need software to unlock productivity [and] we’re building AI-native capabilities into our entire portfolio to help them do that, along with a unified AI system strategy as well.”

Derek Idemoto, Cisco’s senior vice president of corporate development and Cisco Investments, said during the analyst conference that Cisco takes a broad approach to innovation.

“We build, we partner, we invest, we do all those things at the same time. ... I think very few companies out there in the world can do all of these things simultaneously,” Idemoto said. “On the build side, in fiscal year ’23, I think we spent around $7.5 billion on R&D. So a lot of what we’re doing is organic innovation.”

On the partner side, Cisco has tens of thousands of partners out there, Idemoto said.

“That’s 300,000 feet on the street,” he said. “They wake up every single day thinking about selling Cisco. And that’s not to mention the large-scale partnerships that we set up, most recently Nvidia, which you’ve heard a lot about in the news.”

Cisco has been doing acquisitions for well over 30 years and has been investing in other companies for nearly 30 years, Idemoto said.

“I think what that really says about Cisco is that in our push for innovation we know that outside Cisco walls there’s great innovation happening in every corner of the world, every part of the world,” he said. “And we’re there to capture it. This is where Cisco embraces outside technology.”

To that end, Cisco Tuesday unveiled its $1 billion AI investment fund to grow the AI startup ecosystem and help expand the development of secure and reliable AI solutions.

Among the first moves of that new AI fund, Cisco is making strategic investments in Toronto- and San Francisco-based Cohere, which develops security-focused, enterprise-focused large language models (LLMs) and retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) capabilities; Paris-based Mistral AI, which develops new GenAI models for businesses; and San Francisco-based Scale AI, which develops a data-centric, end-to-end platform for training and validation of AI applications.

Cisco last month was the largest strategic investor in Scale AI’s Series F funding round, which totaled $1 billion, the company said.

The AI fund aims to help Cisco get bigger and grow faster, Idemoto said.

“These are dances with elephants that are taking place right now with some of the largest players out there with these valuations that, honestly, I can’t calculate with multiples,” he said. “I’m not sure if anyone the room can. But what it takes there is, you’ve got to bring the full force of Cisco, the balance sheet and the partnership. And so maybe short of acquisition ... the partnerships are going to be very, very key here.”

Cisco Tuesday also expanded its AI partnerships with the introduction of the Cisco Nexus HyperFabric AI cluster, a technology that combines Cisco AI-native networking with Nvidia accelerated computing and AI software and data storage from New York-based Vast Data.

The Cisco Nexus HyperFabric AI cluster is an on-premises technology that features a centralized system for designing, deploying, monitoring and managing AI pods and data center workloads. It offers automated, cloud-managed operations across a unified compute and networking fabric combining that includes Cisco Silicon One networking processor technology integrated with Nvidia’s accelerated computing and AI enterprise software as well as the Vast Data Platform, which offers unified storage, database and a data-driven function engine built for AI.

The Cisco Nexus HyperFabric AI cluster is slated to be in early access for customers late this year.

Along with the new AI-focused hardware, Cisco Tuesday introduced a new CCDE, or Cisco Certified Design Expert, AI Infrastructure certification with training available via Cisco U. This training provides expert-level network engineers and design network engineers with new expertise to translate AI workload business requirements into technical and sustainable best practices for infrastructure design. The company also launched the first stage of its AI partner specializations from Cisco Black Belt aimed at giving Cisco partners product knowledge to help build AI practices and accelerate customer deployments.