Cisco Mounting Massive Open API Offensive; Says APIs Are The 'Holy Grail' For Partners

Cisco is unleashing an API offensive like never before with an army of more than 400,000 developers, including engineers from 1,450 channel partners, who are developing custom solutions alongside third-party vendors.

"This is the new and next wave of opportunity," said Nirav Sheth, senior director of solutions, architectures and engineering for Cisco's Global Partner Organization, in an interview with CRN. "Every portfolio, every architecture that we have – whether it's our collaboration stack, our next generation data center stack or core stack, etc. is open and extensible. Cisco is committed to open APIs and extensibility across our entire portfolio."

Fresh off its $3.7 billion planned acquisition of application specialist AppDynamics, partners say they're using Cisco APIs to evolve into the next generation of system integrators which will feature more software development and become more software-centric businesses.

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"One of our biggest initiatives is to pivot from a traditional integration partner to an infrastructure plus software-defined developer partner," said Steve Rogers, vice president of Solutions & Alliances at Groupware Technology, a Campbell, Calif.-based Cisco partner ranked No. 76 on CRN's Solution Provider 500 list. "Adding a rich software development offering whether it's for public cloud, private cloud or whether its application integration -- that's really where we’re heading. That's the partner of the future."

By using Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) APIs together with Microsoft Azure and NetApp, Groupware created its own cloud-based, pre-configured turnkey solution: Lighthouse. "Think of Lighthouse as a FlexPod architecture with Microsoft integration," said Rogers.

The Infrastructure as-a-Service platform, Lighthouse, provides managers fast access to a self-service portal that delivers capacity on-demand in an effort to solve business outcomes. Groupware delivers and integrates the prebuilt rack that is implemented into a customer's data center or colocation facility.

"It's designed for automation and rapid deployments into an Azure environment. So not only do you get the benefits of a Cisco-powered data center solution with Cisco and NetApp and Microsoft, but we've built some really interesting and automated components that connect it to Microsoft Azure," said Rogers. "We needed to leverage Cisco API sets and that's one reason while we're well-versed in the Cisco DevNet environment."

Three years ago, former Cisco CEO John Chambers approved the creation of a software developers program that morphed into what is now known as Cisco DevNet. More than 400,000 individuals, including engineers from 1,450 channel partner organizations, are now developing on various Cisco's platform through the DevNet community.

Cisco has been criticized in the past for what many have called a proprietary philosophy with regards to its IOS (Internetwork Operating System). However, partners say Cisco has been shedding that image, pointing at the recent vendor push of opening up Meraki APIs.

Susie Wee, vice president and CTO of Networked Experiences and DevNet at Cisco, said the goal is to get 1 million people certified through DevNet to develop custom software solutions.

"These APIs actually give our partners the ability to customize solutions and to make integrations that work with the bigger solutions that involve Cisco and non-Cisco parts. We're allowing them to customize and to create differentiation, to create whole new solutions for areas that Cisco wouldn't go in directly alone," said Wee. "This is a corporate-wide commitment, and we're mobilizing because we want our partners to embrace this opportunity and continue to innovate."

General Datatech, a Dallas, Texas-based Cisco Gold partner, is leveraging APIs from Cisco's Network Services Orchestrator (NSO) along with technology from software vendor Itential to help service providers automate delivery services.

"Those APIs allowed us as system integrators to work with the customers to develop those workflows and integrations with their up and downstream systems," said Matt Duncan, director of GDT Labs at General Datatech, ranked No. 45 on CRN's SP500. "In this case, service providers were looking to automate the provisioning of the services on their network … Delivery time can go from ten to fifteen days down to minutes for their services to customers."

Datatech is also working with customers around orchestration and automation through Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI). "We use those APIs in conjunction with other Cisco products or VMware products in order to automate and orchestrate our customers' workflow activities for provisioning new systems of UCS," said Duncan.

World Wide Technology, a $9 billion St. Louis-based solution provider and one of Cisco's top partners, bet big on Cisco APIs by acquiring software developer Asynchrony in 2015.

"We bought Asynchrony and these guys over the past six months have really gotten engaged with Cisco around APIs, and we're starting to see what they can really do," said Joe Berger, director of WWT’s Collaboration Practice.

WWT has developed several custom solutions on APIs including its newest initiative around Cisco's new Cisco Spark Board collaboration product. WWT's Asynchrony division is developing proof of concepts for the education market by integrating Cisco Spark APIs, Spark Services, and Canvas Network's learning management system – which offers digital learning tools for teachers and students -- into the Spark Board.

Berger said Cisco's big shift towards APIs is changing the way partners do business with the networking leader.

"Most Cisco partners are hardware focused, but for those partners who've been able to make the shift, it's getting pretty interesting doing business with Cisco cause now you can start tying in Cisco applications into different workflows. You can start building applications in Salesforce and Service Now," said Berger. "Then you start throwing the stuff through IoT and it really starts getting neat to what we can start doing with these things with Cisco."

Cisco first implemented open APIs into its collaboration and networking portfolios, but efforts have ramped up over the past 18 months by adding APIs to its data center, cloud, Internet of Things, data analytics and security solutions.

The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant has conducted over 100 free Learning Labs where tens-of-thousands of people have received training. "You can get simple or advanced content there. We have things to help people for all different levels that they're at," said Cisco's Wee.

Cisco has also made software a key skillset needed for its popular CCIE certifications.

In January, Cisco announced its plan to acquire application performance monitoring and management provider AppDynamics for $3.7 billion. Partners said the acquisition moves Cisco front and center at the application level for the first time.

Learning to develop on Cisco APIs gives partners access to new buyers, increases recurring revenue streams and stickiness, allows for earlier deal engagement and can double or triple the average deal size, according to Cisco's Sheth.

"The holy grail is going to be, how is this going to help a partner succeed in the marketplace? … We have a solution marketplace where partners can basically go off and leverage the power of Cisco to monetize what they've built," said Sheth. "Maybe they built something very specifically for a customer … they can then take that solution, offer it up on the marketplace and customize it to other clients."

Sheth said Cisco is committed to providing the best in class API capabilities for its channel community.

"At the end of the day, the partner of the future is going to look very different than the partner in the past," he said. "Technology in boxes and selling to the IT buyer is not going to be obsolete by any means, but the partner of the future has to be able to do that, has to also be able to sell into the line of business and also has to be able to bring these software capabilities to bear."