Cisco's Chambers: Architecture Is The Future

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You don’t so much interview John Chambers as intercept him. When CRN grabbed its 30 minutes with Cisco’s chairman and CEO early this month, he was fresh from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and finishing up partner, customer and analyst visits in the United Kingdom. On the dance card for the day were an interview with “60 Minutes” and who knows what else. This is not an executive easily scheduled.



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But tucked into his cozy but unremarkable office in Building 10 of Cisco’s sprawling San Jose, Calif., headquarters -- TelePresence, yes, window, no -- Chambers is happy to expound. Having just entered his 16th year as Cisco’s top executive, he’s as affably intense as ever, anticipating questions and subquestions and follow-up questions: a mind percolating before your eyes even as, in conversation, he politely waits for you to finish your thought.

“At the 10,000-foot level, what’s most exciting is that many of the market transitions we anticipated happening are happening,” Chambers told CRN. “The network is becoming the platform not just for all forms of communications and IT, but it’s going to enable a different generation of productivity around collaboration, it’s going to change the data center, it’s going to change health care, it’s going to be at the center of everything from security to video. The exciting thing about Cisco and its partners is we’re going to play there together. We are better together.”

The Cisco of 2011 is no longer just the king of networking vendors. The two-year-old Unified Computing System -- its major server and data center play -- ensured that, with Chambers noting “there hasn’t been a new hardware player in the data center for decades, and contrary to all the prognostications, we are breaking away there.”

Cisco’s next big gambit will be getting its partners to fully embrace the cloud. To help them get at that opportunity, executives at next week’s Partner Summit in New Orleans will roll out cloud partner programs that give VARs multiple avenues into the cloud, from building clouds to operating clouds to reselling clouds.

The rollout could be huge not only for Cisco partners but for the channel as a whole, since Cisco is widely viewed as the leader in delivering innovative channel programs that bring partners big profits in tough-to-tackle markets.

The cloud initiative is at the heart of Chambers’ vision, which is far beyond that of a networking and infrastructure vendor with a nifty server play. These days Chambers is asking solution providers to invest heavily in his vision of network architectures: the idea that the network is the center of platforms and frameworks for all forms of communications products and services, as opposed to just siloed, product vs. product sales.

The architecture play, as Cisco sees it, is all-encompassing, with the cloud as the next frontier. It extends from network core to network edge -- data center to mobile device -- and serves as an organizing principle for everything from switches and routers to video, servers, wireless access points and security.

Cisco can, and does, do them all. And what Chambers is asking partners to do isn’t to be everything to everyone and attempt to sell everything but, in essence, see the architectural forest for the product trees and map the way they sell Cisco to that strategy.

“If you’re selling a single, stand-alone product, you’re ignoring perhaps the strongest thing Cisco does, which is an architectural approach, which protects their investments, allows them to move into new markets relatively seamlessly,” Chambers said.

“Many of our partners will say what level of differentiation they want to add. So there’s room for just making the architectural stack work well together. There’s room for saying, ‘We need to go sell that in a given geography or industry vertical.’ And that’s much better than their counterparts that are selling stand-alone unified communications, stand-alone security, stand-alone wireless, stand-alone routers and switches -- which, by the way, were designed to work together,” he said.


NEXT: Market Transitions Don’t Wait

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