Chambers' New Security-Focused Role At Cisco Seen As 'Critical' To Success

John Chambers, the now former CEO of Cisco, will play a more critical role in the security space for the networking giant than initially thought -- a key decision partners say will help distinguish Cisco from competitors.

Cisco confirmed to CRN that new CEO Chuck Robbins asked Chambers to be the "executive sponsor for security" as part his new role as executive chairman of the board. In a recent report by UBS analyst Amitabh Passi, Cisco's No. 1 priority is security, and Chambers will lead that security mandate.

Partners said Chambers is highly respected and a known figure around the globe, traits that, if Cisco uses them correctly, can gain a substantial edge in the security space.

[Related: 10 Reasons Why Cisco Will (Or Won't) Dominate The Enterprise Security Market]

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"He knows all the CEOs of all the large companies, he talks to all the world leaders, so he'll be able to take that message out to that level, which I think is critical," said Greg Kushto, director of security practice for Force 3, a Crofton, Md.-based network security solution provider and Cisco partner.

"Security is no longer just an IT problem anymore, it's just a general problem for literally everyone," Kushto said. "For him to be able to go around and talk to all the CEOs and explain to the CEOs why cybersecurity is so important and why the whole business needs to be concerned about it, … I think it's really going to pay off for Cisco and partners as well."

Chambers, 65, led Cisco from January 1995 to July 26, when he was replaced by longtime channel sales executive Robbins. As CEO, Chambers grew the company from a $1.2 billion business to $47 billion in fiscal year 2015. One of his key areas of focus as executive chairman of the board will be building relationships with government and business leaders -- where solution providers say Chambers excels.

Making Chambers a sort of a spokesman for Cisco's security business shows how committed the networking giant is to becoming the dominant leader in cybersecurity, solution providers said.

"For Chambers' focus to be on security, it speaks volumes to how important it is to Cisco now," said Michael Girouard, executive vice president of sales at TekLinks, a Birmingham, Ala.-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner. "Chambers has always been big on catching market transitions, and Cisco self-admittedly has been behind in security for quite some time, and you can see them beginning to address this with a number of acquisitions."

Cisco has spent billions of dollars over the past few years on security acquisitions such as Sourcefire, ThreatGrid and Meraki, and also recently nabbed security specialist OpenDNS for $635 million.

In 2015, Cisco has attacked the security market through strategic acquisitions and partnerships as well as with new products, services and solutions, including extending security "everywhere" throughout the network.

"Security is uber-hot right now," said Girouard. "This market transition has been extending for quite some time, which gives Cisco some time to maneuver into it. Some could have argued two years ago they were too late, but it continues to be a hot topic for a number of different reasons, so there is still time for them to catch this transition and I think they're going to.

"There's still some holes in their portfolio that they need to fill," said Girouard. "I think they're bound and determined to go ahead and fill that."

Partners also said that while Robbins has his hands full during his transition to leadership, Chambers can ease the burden by handling the security space.

"It's going to be a lot of work while Chuck grabs hold of the entire organization, so if John can really grab onto this high-growth area, I think it would really help Cisco quite a bit to sort of divide and conquer," said Robert Keblusek, CTO at Sentinel Technologies, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based Cisco partner.

"Having someone at his level, with his level of contacts, focusing on security will bring a lot of value to Cisco and to us."