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Cisco’s Chuck Robbins On XaaS: We ‘Realized We Weren’t As Operationally Ready’

Gina Narcisi

‘Cisco’s got some ground to cover, but it’s really about the long game. While you can argue they are late to market, we believe that they’re going to be able to learn from the lessons of all their competitors and come out with even stronger products,’ one Cisco partner tells CRN about the company’s as-a-service drive.

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Customers are looking for different ways to acquire the IT they need, including buying in an as-a-service model to save some capital, but Cisco has faced a few recent hindrances to as a service, according to the company’s executives.

For the San Jose, Calif.-based tech giant, supply chain constraints have been an ongoing obstacle to the Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) trend because Cisco and its partners couldn’t deliver the equipment that’s part of as-a-service offers, specifically, its Cisco Plus strategy.

“And then we also realized we weren’t as operationally ready,” Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins told analysts regarding the company’s XaaS push at Cisco Partner Summit 2022 earlier this month.

Many customers interpreted the launch of Cisco Plus as just a different way to finance IT — a “fancy lease” — versus a true XaaS model, said Neil Anderson, area vice president of cloud and infrastructure solutions for Maryland Heights, Mo.-based Cisco Gold partner World Wide Technology (WWT).

But channel partners want to put vendor XaaS offerings “under the hood” and built their own services on top of the stack to create a turnkey offering for their end customers. Customers, on the other hand, often want to have the option to manage some of their own IT, Anderson said.

“Part of the problem in getting to a true as-a-service model, as a utility, is that most customers still want some form of co-management. They don’t want somebody to just do everything for them and they have no visibility into it. They want a portal where they can see how things are going, maybe touch a few things. So, this idea of co-management, I think, is going to be really important for network as a service,” he said.

[Related: Cisco’s X Factor: How Chuck Robbins Is Taking Partners Into The Future ]

WWT is seeing this prerequisite across the board — not just in networking, but also in the collaboration space. The firm is seeing more RFPs with a requirement for managed services. “That allows the partner to add an additional layer of value to it so it’s not just a resell lead, it’s [giving] the partner some skin in the game long term,” said Joe Berger, area vice president of Digital Experiences for WWT.

Cisco Channel Chief Oliver Tuszik told CRN in an interview that the company is focused on enabling customers to buy and consume the Cisco portfolio in an as a service motion if that’s how they’d like to buy, and for more partners to sell in an as a service model.

“Our strategy must be that we allow our customers, wherever they are in the world, to buy whatever Cisco has in his portfolio in an as a service or managed motion,” Tuszik said.

But the as-a-service effort goes beyond products. It’s about building out Cisco’s Provider partner role the company introduced in 2021 within its Global Partner Program, he said, a role built with the MSP partner in mind and recognizes partners based on their investment in managed services and as-a-service solutions. As the managed services business has taken off, Cisco has since upped its investments in Provider partners with predictable pricing, deal registration for managed services, more flexible consumption options, dedicated investment and business development funds, technical support enablement, and co-marketing, the company said.

Cisco is also building more modular programs and new incentive schemes, Tuszik said. “We are incentivizing our people to sell partner-managed services,” he told CRN. “We’re paying our sales team more if they sell a partner-managed service — 50 percent more,” he added.

At Partner Summit 2022, the tech giant revealed it had tripled the number of staff working on service creation motions with partners, as well as a 1.5x payout multiplier to support the growth of partner-managed SD-WAN, Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), and full-stack observability offers.

Companies like HPE and Cisco are turning to partners during this time of resource constraints and talent shortages to learn more about what the channel can offer by way of managed services and what they can take off the vendors’ hands. Customers are looking for “cloud-like” IT experiences that are more automated and that also encompass on-premises tech environments for customers grappling with requirements that prevent them from going all-in on cloud, like data sovereignty. There’s where Cisco Plus fits in, said CJ Metz, vice president of Modern Infrastructure for Irvine, Calif.-based Cisco Gold Partner Trace3.

Trace3 also partners with HPE. Metz said that the major differentiator for HPE GreenLake has been in how the company shifted its entire focus to support its as a service strategy, including executive compensation, sales compensation and the support structures that underpin it. “[HPE] just has had more time to take more risks, to learn the hard lessons,” he said.

Cisco, he added, has been forthcoming to partners about its need to catch up. “Cisco’s got some ground to cover, but it’s really about the long game. While you can argue they are late to market, we believe that they’re going to be able to learn from the lessons of all their competitors and come out with even stronger products.”

For Cisco’s part in becoming more operationally ready for XaaS, Robbins told analysts: “I think over the next 6 to 12 months, you’ll see a lot of progress on this front.”

In the meantime, Cisco already has many as-a-service offers on the market today by way of their channel partners, the CEO added.

“We’ve got stuff going in the cloud marketplaces that we didn’t have before, we’ve got partners delivering as a service today and we’ve got the SASE [Cisco Plus Secure Connect Now] offer out there,” Robbins said. “There’s a few things we need to do, but there’s an awful lot offers that are out there today for customers.”

Cisco doesn’t specifically break out revenue related to its Cisco Plus strategy, but the company’s most recent fiscal quarter that ended Oct. 29 saw software subscription revenue climb 11 percent year over year.  

Gina Narcisi

Gina Narcisi is a senior editor covering the networking and telecom markets for CRN.com. Prior to joining CRN, she covered the networking, unified communications and cloud space for TechTarget. She can be reached at gnarcisi@thechannelcompany.com.

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