Cisco Plus Offers ‘Turnkey’ As-A-Service Solutions, Not Pieces, Say Execs

‘We landed on this idea of not just delivering just hardware as-a-service or software as-a-service, but really looking at whole solutions -- turnkey offerings that provide our Cisco technology as-a-service in the simplest possible way,’ Cisco’s networking and cloud leader Todd Nightingale says of Cisco Plus.

Cisco is making good on its promise to offer flexible, consumption-based IT solutions in the form of Cisco Plus, the company’s as-a-service strategy that has been in the works with partners for more than a year.

Todd Nightingale, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Enterprise Networking and Cloud Business, called the Cisco Plus launch on March 30 a “big day” for the once hardware-focused networking company.

“We’ve been working on this launch for quite a while,” Nightingale said during a press conference at Cisco Live 2021. “We’ve been talking a lot about Cisco’s as-a-service transition and providing Cisco technology in the most flexible, easiest-to-consume way. Last year, we heard a ton of feedback from our customers on why this is important and why they need to be able to move more quickly and that comes with [consuming] things in a more flexible way.”

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Nightingale explained that Cisco “thought long and hard” about how to launch Cisco Plus and what an as-a-service approach to Cisco’s technology might look like.

“We landed on this idea of not just delivering just hardware as-a-service or software as-a-service, but really looking at whole solutions -- turnkey offerings that provide our Cisco technology as-a-service in the simplest possible way -- radically simplifying the way that we bring the most powerful technology in the world to market,” he said.

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Large IT companies, like Cisco, typically are thought of as less agile compared to smaller firms and often have regulations in place around their products, said Kent Christensen, practice director of virtualization and cloud for Cisco Master partner Insight. “For Cisco to say, ‘Here’s Cisco Plus. Build stuff out of it.’ OK, we’re off and running!” he said.

Tempe, Ariz.-based Insight has been offering its own flexible IT consumption model to its enterprise customers, so Cisco tapped the firm for input as it worked on its own as-a-service transition and the Cisco Plus strategy, Christensen said.

Previously, partners that wanted to sell in a pay-as-you-go fashion to its customers had to cobble together their own offerings and take on risk. “Our view is whenever a [vendor] has a model like Cisco Plus, it’s always going to win over cobbling something together,” Christensen said.

Cisco Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins has spent the last calendar year sharing the tech giant's plans for transitioning all pieces of the Cisco portfolio to as-a-service, especially in light of changing buying behaviors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Robbins told press and analysts at Cisco Live that the company is prioritizing choice for customers in how they consume the technologies that Cisco has built.

The as-a-service model is new to some in the channel, but for many others, it’s an extension of their currently capabilities, Robbins said. “I think we’ll have a combination of existing partners, some partners ahead of us, some that will go with us, and some that will lag -- they tend to move at different paces,” he added.

While the new Cisco Plus strategy will bring together what partners need to deliver a consumption-based IT offering, it’s not an entirely brand-new concept, Cisco Channel Chief Oliver Tuszik told CRN.

“As-a-service, most of our partners still call it managed services. The buying behavior has changed, and there are different buying centers. So, it’s not like we’re coming up with a new idea. We continue to serve the increasing demand,” he said.

As-a-service or managed services is a rapidly-growing business. In fact, Cisco generated $5.3 billion in managed services revenue in fiscal year 2020 through its partners, Tuszik said.

“Under Cisco Plus, there are a lot of new platforms that we’re developing. Our platform allows [partners] to create a completely different experience that helps you create different consumption models, and it’s happening on different layers, so no matter if you’re an experienced MSP, you will get better products, better APIs, and better integration. If you’re new to managed services, you will get close to ready-to-sell solutions where you only need to do certain activities on your side,” Tuszik said.

Conscia Nederland is a systems integrator and Cisco partner based in Holland that has been involved in the pilot phase of Cisco Plus. The firm has a very large footprint in the healthcare space and counts 60 percent of all hospitals in the Netherlands as customers. These customers require secure solutions that must stay up and running 24/7, and they want predictability from their IT solutions, said Jeffrey den Oudsten, solutions director, office of the CTO, for Conscia.

“We can do things much better in the Cisco Plus program than we can on our own with network as-a-service,” he said.

Conscia is in a “discovery phase” with Cisco Plus and is evaluating how it can make consumption-based IT interesting to its customers, den Oudsten said. The pandemic has made many customers rethink their IT buying strategies, which plays favorably to an as-a-service approach, he added.

“I think [consumption-based IT] was accelerated because of COVID-19. Our thoughts on architecture and the security perimeter are really changing and users and data is everywhere,” den Oudsten said. ‘We think investments will follow the new ways people are thinking about IT.”

Cisco’s as-a-service strategy, like the rest of its go-to-market motions, is “100 percent partner-focused,” Tuszik said. “This [part] hasn’t changed -- it’s nothing new.”