Cisco's Technology Bets: 10 Areas To Keep An Eye On

Cisco's Technology Scorecard

Cisco later this month will host its first-ever Technology Editors Conference, an all-day affair in San Jose that will draw in national technology press for VP-and-higher-level presentations on each of Cisco's major technology areas, from video to service provider to security.

The stepped up emphasis on sharing Cisco's technology roadmap is, of course, no accident -- Cisco's just emerged from a year-long corporate restructuring that many partners believe made it more nimble and definitely easier with which to do business. A lot of that restructuring happened in its engineering corps, and Cisco used its recent Partner Summit to share details of what's to come, particularly as it relates to Cisco in security, software-defined networking and cloud.

Based on those Partner Summit discussions, a CRN interview with Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior, and other recent Cisco moves, here's a look at some key areas of Cisco's technology strategy that partners should be following.

Cisco's Security Ambitions

As has been mentioned several times, Chris Young (left), Cisco's new-ish SVP, security technologies business unit, was a star attraction at the Partner Summit without ever taking the main stage. It's not hard to understand why; Young, who joined Cisco in November as its first-ever, SVP-level security boss, is taking over a Cisco area in which many solution providers and industry observers feel Cisco is lacking.

Some analysts have speculated that Cisco is hard at work on a next-generation firewall product to succeed its Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) line and enable it to better compete with NGFW vendors like Check Point, Palo Alto Networks and SonicWall. Still others think Cisco will acquire in this area -- something CEO John Chambers himself hinted at in a CRN interview last year. Based on all the continued attention, it's hard to imagine Cisco doesn't have something cooking in security.

Cisco's UCS Ecosystem

The impressive growth of Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) is pushing Cisco to continue to strike while the UCS iron is still hot, and Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior (left) explained that the goal is to continue to broaden Cisco's UCS community -- focusing on more strategic vendor partnerships such as the models it has in place for the Vblock and FlexPod configurations, a lot more app development, and a broadened story about how UCS-led data center architectures are different and have stronger value than competing architectures.

"We will work with partners to create that ecosystem," Warrior told CRN.

Cisco's Cloud Ambitions

When asked about her proudest accomplishment over the past four years heading Cisco’s engineering, Warrior told CRN that it was the growth of Cisco from a non-player in the emerging cloud computing trend to a leader.

"I came in March 2008 and I started to put together our strategy for cloud, looking at the pieces we had and what we could do," she said. "We hadn't yet thought much about the role the network could play in cloud, so what I'm hugely proud of is the movement Cisco's made from having no name in cloud to being a clear leader in cloud."

Next up for Cisco -- after launching its Cloud Channel partner program and CloudVerse framework and adding a Master Cloud Builder specialization last year -- is Cloud Connect, a way to optimize customers' cloud environments using what Warrior described as Cloud Connectors. Those are modules that attach to the Connect platform and allow partners to build custom applications using Cisco software. More details on the strategy are expected later this month and in June at Cisco Live.

Cisco's Work With ISVs

Cisco's overall software strategy comes up quite a bit, what with major competitors like HP making substantial acquisitions in the enterprise software space and so much of networking overlapping with software integration trends.

In her interview with CRN, Warrior made no bones about the fact that Cisco needs to go deeper and wider with the ISV community. Already, Cisco has 44 ISVs developing for the UCS API, and that's something, she said, that Cisco is keyed in on.

"We need much more -- that's an area we can focus much more," she said.

Cisco's Big Data Focus

Cisco isn't thought of as a big data analytics vendor, but according to Warrior, that's absolutely an area where Cisco has a play and where Cisco solution providers will be able to make money. Cisco's focus on Big Data is in two areas, she said: networking intelligence for applications -- such as searchable video -- and helping service provider customers monetize what's happening in their networks based on data they can glean from customer usage.

Partners can create their own analytics capability and plug that into Cisco's platforms, Warrior noted, and they will also be able to resell and integrate Cisco's own analytics for their customers.

"Our model with partners all along will be to continue to be flexible with what they want to do," she said.

Cisco's Approach To SDN

Cisco's role in the expanding software-defined networking (SDN) universe has come up a lot, and will continue to be a hot button. But, the idea that SDN technology will further commoditize Cisco switches and routers is something with which Warrior doesn't agree.

"I think the reverse is true," she said. "When we talk more about connectivity, programmability and network intelligence, that's a great thing for Cisco. It won't get commoditized; there will be a lot more value generated from it. The network will go through a reinvention and we will be the company that reinvents it."

The Role Of Insiemi

During the Partner Summit, Cisco finally came clean on Insiemi, the SDN startup and potential Cisco "spin-in" play. Cisco confirmed that it has invested $100 million into Insiemi so far with the right to acquire the company for potentially $750 million more on top of that.

Insiemi, said Cisco's Warrior, is focused on how to enable programmability and visibility into physical and virtual network resources.

"It is part of our build/buy/partner strategy. If you look at emerging opportunities, especially those that don't really have any revenue today, we are striving to drive innovation, to drive opportunity for partners," she said. "There are some emerging disruptions we feel we need to watch out for and Insiemi falls into that category."

Cisco's Network Monitoring Expansion

In the midst of bigger, splashier, sexier technology priorities, Cisco has done a lot in recent months to expand its network monitoring strategy, including with two recent acquisitions, ClearAccess in March and Truviso just this month, which will help it expand its network monitoring platform, Prime.

No question those moves are part-and-parcel of Cisco's analytics and Big Data priorities, too -- using software to understand the network at a more granular level and then monetize that data as network intelligence. How big a business could this be for Cisco?

Cisco's Collaboration Edge

If there's been any shift in Cisco's major collaboration strategy in the past year, it's that Cisco now regards Microsoft as a major UC and collaboration competitor and is making aggressive moves to counteract the surge in customer Lync adoption. One of those came at the Partner Summit: "Jabber for Everyone," in which Cisco is making presence and IM capabilities and Cisco Jabber clients available at no additional licensing cost to customers.

Cisco partners applauded the move as one that will make Jabber adoption easier for customers by untangling licensing fees and easing their cap-ex burden for acquiring Cisco collaboration tools. Rest assured that as Microsoft firms up its strategy for leveraging Skype in various platforms, including Lync, Cisco will be ready with another return-fire move.

The Payoff Of Cisco's Engineering Changes

Cisco's Warrior highlighted three ways that restructuring Cisco's Engineering units last year will pay off. Focusing on five core priorities instead of 30 to 50 "adjacencies," she said, has created clear accountability in its five major business lines: data center, enterprise networking, service provider networking, security and video/collaboration.

"The leaders of those lines control a lot of the R&D and revenue, and are empowered to make their own adjustments and investments," she explained. "They don't have to come to me and Pankaj [Patel (left), Cisco SVP and Engineering co-lead] and say, hey, we need 10 engineers to work on this. Accountability and speed are much improved."

Thirdly, Warrior noted that Cisco created five strategic technology groups to support its five major engineering line-of-business groups. She described those groups as "horizontal," supporting the engineering groups and eliminating duplicated efforts.