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Cisco Is ‘Tearing Down Walls’ With Unified Networking, CX Goals

‘There’s a lot of cross business unit work going on, and I think it’s a muscle that we’re going to build even more effectively as we go forward,’ Chuck Robbins tells CRN during an interview about Cisco’s simplification efforts at Cisco Live 2022.

Cisco Systems, known for its massive portfolio of networking products, is also known for complexity. It’s a legacy that the tech giant is planning to shake off with its strategic focus on unified experiences, executives and partners told CRN at Cisco Live 2022.

Cisco kicked off the event by announcing a breakthrough in network management: the powerful Cisco Catalyst portfolio can now be managed via the popular and simplistic cloud-based Meraki dashboard.

Kent MacDonald, senior vice president of strategic alliances at Cisco Gold Partner Long View Systems, said that Todd Nightingale, who joined Cisco with the Meraki acquisition in 2012 as executive vice president and general manager of Cisco’s enterprise networking and cloud business, understands the reality of what networking professionals need today because of his background in cloud-first networking.

“[Nightingale] isn’t saying Meraki is the golden child, but they built something successful because customers got the power of cloud management,” MacDonald said.

“[Nightingale] is really, in my opinion, the person that’s driving the ‘Tear down these walls’ strategy between the business units and bringing Cisco together,” he said.

[Related: Cisco U. Stops Partners From Getting ‘Lost In The Sea Of Trainings’ ]

The Catalyst/Meraki management announcement is a “significant milestone” and just the first phase of integration and simplification across Cisco’s disparate portfolios that customers and partners can expect, Chuck Robbins, Cisco’s CEO, told CRN at Cisco Live 2022.

“I think that we’re bringing more offers to the market today that require integration across business units than we ever have, and this is probably a banner day for that. But there’s a lot more coming,” Robbins said.

Cisco now has integrations between ThousandEyes technology and its Talos Threat Intelligence service within the AppDynamics platform, Robbins said. “One of the ironic things is they figured out is that Webex actually has a lot of analytics about internet performance, so now, it’s feeding the [WAN Insights] engine. Then, you have observability integration with Intersight. Those are all different business units that are actually doing this,” he said. “There’s a lot of cross business unit work going on, and I think it’s a muscle that we’re going to build even more effectively as we go forward.”

Tearing down walls and breaking down silos is something that Cisco has already started and “absolutely” must do, said Matthew Ogden, CTO for MNJ Technologies, a Buffalo Grove, Ill.-based solution provider and Cisco Partner.

“[Cisco] tried to make DNA Center the centralized platform, but many people still haven’t bought into the DNA Center platform because it’s complicated and still has too many issues,” he said. “It’s because there’s still a lot of walls around the products, from the data center products, to the routers and switches, to the wireless products, and that causes issues.”

Cisco’s focus simplifying the portfolio is “step one,” according to Joe Berger, senior director of Cisco partner World Wide Technology’s digital workspace practice.

The next step, Berger said, is to simplify how customers buy IT and how partners work with Cisco to develop cross-business unit solutions because that’s how customers are buying.

“[Customers] aren’t saying: ‘I only buy the networking with this group, security with this group, and the cloud over here. Security has made its way into every product set, and that you can’t deploy an application or something in the cloud without understanding the network implications of that too,” he said. “Cisco has kind of evolved to break down those groups to start selling how the customers want to actually want to buy, while focusing on experience.”

Thimaya Subaiya, senior vice president and general manager of Global Customer Experience at Cisco, told attendees at Cisco Live that the company is “all in” on simplification and shaking off complexity. Cisco, along with its partners, wants to turn experiences into one seamless, simple motion. “That’s my No. 1 mission,” Subaiya added.

Other vendors that may have grown their cloud-based offerings via acquisition – similar to Cisco — have done a good job of hiding complexity from the end user by building a seamless user experience on top of the disparate platforms, said Tony Colon, senior vice president of Customer and Partner Experience Engineering for Cisco.

“That’s essentially the exact same thing we’re doing at Cisco,” he said. “We’re not necessarily changing the product itself. We’re building an experience on top so that when you navigate from Meraki to DNA Center, to our security products like Umbrella, or Duo, it’s essentially seamless to the user of what they’re doing and what they’re in. We’re taking a platform approach, but it’s almost like up-leveling or creating a layer that sits on top as an API-first approach and exposing that to customers and partners.”

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