Cisco Live Take-Away: Partners Say Cisco Is 'More Open Than Ever'

Solution providers who attended the Cisco Live training conference in San Diego this week said the San Jose, Calif.-based company is turning heads by building more open solutions and expanding its support to companies such as Amazon.

"I see much more emphasis on them clarifying their position around openness and being much more open than ever," said Greg Stemberger, principal solutions architect at Force 3, a Crofton, Md.-based Cisco Gold partner. "Cisco's got an historic track record of building proprietary solutions ... but I think they're making efforts to improve upon that. ... A lot of the standards they're producing are absolutely being pushed out to the open community, which is great.".

[Related: Cisco Puts Intercloud In Higher Gear By Adding AWS, Microsoft Azure Functionality]

Cisco revealed during Cisco Live that it is extending its virtual machine on-boarding to support Amazon Virtual Private Cloud as well as its firewall services to now support Microsoft Azure as part of its Intercloud strategy. Intercloud Fabric also will now support OpenStack KVM and Microsoft Hyper-V. In addition, the networking giant unveiled 35 new partnerships with ISVs, including some rivals in other markets, who will become part of the Intercloud ecosystem.

Sponsored post

"This is the first time Cisco came out and said, 'We're not trying to be an Amazon or Google, we're trying to provide a way for business to connect in an open fashion' -- that's why it's starting to click with people now," said Ethan Simmons, vice president, East, for Lumenate, a Cisco partner based in Marlborough, Mass. "Cisco has embraced OpenStack and that's a new world for some Cisco partners out there."

Simmons said that for Cisco's Intercloud strategy to succeed, openness is critical.

"Customers want openness, they want to be able to connect to whatever cloud they need to [in order] to provide business outcomes. So if Cisco is really focused on business outcomes then they need to provide that open capability within Intercloud," said Simmons. "Cisco's trying to provide the policy and process around it, but they still need to be open to connect to all of them."

Partners who attended Cisco Live also said more vendors took part in the event than in years past, including IBM, EMC and NetApp.

"There was far more inclusion of other ecosystem partners as part of the overall messaging. I thought that was pretty interesting," said Simmons.

Cisco also has been pushing its partner community to focus on software solutions compared to hardware, which was more apparent than ever during Cisco Live, said partners.

"I remember the days when you'd go there and a big centerpiece was always all the hardware, seeing all the routers and hardware; I remember they even brought a switch on the stage once," said Force 3's Stemberger. "One thing that really hit me this year was how much of a shift we're starting to see away from hardware … driven by software-defined networking."

To that end, Cisco unveiled a revamped version of software for Application Centric Infrastructure deployments, Cisco's version of SDN, including additional cloud management integration, enhanced multisite support and improved operations. Cisco also released enhancements to its Nexus portfolio, including new built-in automation tools.

"ACI has been a little bit of a complex solution to wrap your head around," said Stemberger. "What we're starting to see is a more relevant message coming clear on how ACI can help organizations today that are still operating networks in silos. … The hardware is still important, but there's just much more of an emphasis on what kind of intelligence offering you can drive on top of that to help manage that in a more coordinated, simplified manner."

Partners attending the event also said Cisco's emphasis and new focus on security was noticeable.

Cisco recently blanketed its entire networking infrastructure with security by adding more sensors, control points and advanced threat protection to deliver better control and greater threat visibility.

"It's thrilling to see them refocusing on security," said Kent MacDonald, vice president of converged infrastructure and network services at Long View Systems, a Cisco Gold partner based in Calgary, Alberta. "Cisco has the unique ability of embedding security throughout the network; it's going to be differentiating for us. … It creates new conversations, new opportunities, new markets for Cisco partners."

Along with the new focus of openness, software and security, possibly the biggest change to Cisco will come in the form of leadership.

CEO John Chambers will step down after more than 20 years and incoming CEO Chuck Robbins will take the helm July 27.

Robbins recently revealed his new "next-generation" leadership team. The 10-person team includes newcomer Dr. Ruba Borno, 34, who will become chief of staff and vice president of growth initiatives, and Hilton Romanski, 42, the new chief technology and strategy officer.

"Chuck's got some very younger appointed officials on his leadership team to bring some fresh ideas and some change," said Stemberger. "The general consensus talking with internal Cisco reps is they're excited."

Simmons said Robbins' new team was hand-picked to be able to address the aggressive transition and fast-paced innovation occurring in the industry.

"Everyone is talking about how fast everything is happening," said Simmons. "What Chuck's trying to do is put a team in place that can help them in that transition and can handle the pace and speed of change probably better than what Cisco has done in the past."

"It's a new chapter in a great book," said MacDonald.