Tech Talk: Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior On ACI, Invicta And The Changing Role Of IT

Cisco's Tech Titan

Cisco last week shook up the server market with the launch of UCS Mini, a new version of its flagship converged infrastructure platform purpose-built for the midmarket. During the live launch event in New York, Cisco's Chief Technology and Strategy Officer Padmasree Warrior spoke with reporters about everything from the evolving role of the CIO to how Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) SDN offering stacks up against the competition.

Here's what Cisco's tech titan had to say.

How do you see the role of the CIO changing?

I think the CIO's role in the past has been to really optimize the technology and be, sort of, at the back end of the business and making sure the connectivity was there, and it was provided for mission-critical needs in the enterprise. That part of the role remains. However, they've become much more of a service provider to the org, not just a technology deployer. In other words, they really now are a partner with the business to help the realize the business outcomes they are looking for with technology.

So, the CIO really becomes more of a business partner, rather than just a technology implementer.

So are specialists going away in the data center?

I think they are [still] specialists, but specialists expanding the scope. It's not a specialist for each physical component, but specialists around data center and around infrastructure. So, for example, if you think about what an IT organization needs to do, they need to provide a mobility solution for their business, not necessarily just have experts who know how to deploy Wi-Fi.

It is all of that. So, just as we talk about our company becoming more of a solutions company, and more about working on outcomes, IT organizations have to evolve to that, as well.

What's the definition of an entry-level IT job moving forward?

My point of view is that it's really going to have [to focus on] how they guarantee return on investments. They have to really have some business-savvy, in addition to just understand the technology.

It's really a combination. Just like an entry-level engineer, for example, really now has to understand the entire product cycle, an entry-level IT prof has to understand software, hardware and the business implications of technology.

How is Cisco training its own staff and partners for this shift?

I think Cisco is already there, and we are already using things like Networking Academy and intern programs in our IT organization to bring people in fresh from school to expose them to the changes that we are going to see.

With Networking Academy, for example, traditionally we certified people to be network specialists. We are now introducing courses around [the Internet of Everything], around solutions and around architectures.

When will there be fabric integration between UCS and ACI?

I think it definitely is on the road map. This is a phased evolution, when you think about it. When we originally launched UCS six years ago … we kind of envisioned a future where it was really a computing platform that had programmability [and] virtualization. Preparing for the cloud, at the time, we were really targeting the UCS to be the platform for private clouds, which was where a lot of the enterprise evolved.

…We are now taking that to the next level to enable large-scale cloud and edge computing. As we think about the Internet of Everything, really a lot of the compute capability has to happen at the edge, not just in the data center. [We] talked about how we are adding that capability.

…In the meantime, if you look at networking and what ACI is trying to do is to enable the network to be much more programmable. So that evolution is happening and that is a phased approach, where people have to go from a physical, closed system that was the network to really making the network much more of an open platform with APIs, with a controller, allowing us to program the network. The next thing we will do is unify those two things. That is on the road map. I'm not exactly sure on the timing.

Cisco, for now, has stopped shipping its Invicta storage. What's the road map for that product?

It's definitely on our road map. …The next logical thing for us to do is to incorporate high-performance flash close to compute, and to think about storage, really, not as storage. Again, this will be the constant misperception in the market. Just as when we were entering the server [market], people said, 'Why are you building a server?' And we kept saying, 'No, we aren't building a server, we are building computing.'

Similarly, when we talk about incorporating storage, we are not building storage. We definitely value the partnerships we have with EMC and NetApp and other vendors. What we are doing is incorporating high-performance flash storage close to compute.

…Clearly, that is on our road map. It is part of the strategy and you will hear more announcements from us. I think one of the things that we are very good at doing, and we are constantly aware of, is that when we make acquisitions we have to bring in the technology and make sure it is mature and [able] to integrate into our products. Sometimes that takes longer than when we are a stand-alone company and they are a stand-alone company.

What are the details of Cisco's new partnership with Red Hat?

Red Hat has been a good partner for us. Even now we work with them a lot in terms of having Red Hat Linux certified on UCS. I think it's one of the first things that we have applied as more and more applications in the enterprise write on that platform.

This partnership we announced [this month] is really extending that relation into the OpenStack world. As OpenStack becomes much more mature, and we see that as becoming a key enabler for many public cloud deployments, we see Red Hat as a natural partner, in addition to the things that we will do within the OpenStack community ourselves.

So what we are announcing is basically working with Red Hat in OpenStack to put the capabilities they have onto UCS as a platform, and plug in the ACI and move that stack to what we call Intercloud.

…So the partnership is happening now. As we speak, we are working on that integration.

How has Cisco's security strategy evolved?

If you look traditionally at IT spend in security, it's been [focused on] the "before." We kind of think of it as before, during and after an attack, as the company life cycle of when a bad thing happens and how do you prevent it. The majority of the spend until this point, and the majority of actually the vendors and technology development [or] product development, had been around the "before." And I think that made sense as long as the IT world was a client-server model, meaning you had a desktop and a server, and you had firewalls and you could protect an IP address because a person was basically accessing information from a desktop.

…Now, as the model shifts from the client-server model to what is now known the mobile-cloud model, and then extending that to IoE… we feel that, really, the focus is going to shift from just having protection before an attack to during and after.

So, in other words, how do you look for threat detection and isolating threats once they happen so you can remediate and recover quicker. So spend is slowly shifting from before to during and after, and we are expanding our portfolio and our investments to actually follow and lead that trend.

Do you see Cisco investing more in the microserver market?

I think when we enter this world of Internet of Everything, I think we will see, just like mobile disaggregated the whole compute industry -- if you think about what the mobile device did, it created a whole host of applications that didn't exist before. App stores didn't exist before we had smartphones, and by 2015, I think we are now saying, [there will be] 70 billion apps in the next year.

…I'm sure as we enter the IoE world, we will again disaggregate the industry to where you have compute localized more. And part of what we are thinking with UCS Mini is that extension to the edge, and will that disaggregate further to have a microserver environment with a really low-power processor. I think we will see a whole bunch of disruptions and a whole bunch of innovations happen.

How does Cisco's SDN strategy with ACI compare to the pure software approach?

We are moving to what we call programmable networking [or] enabling, through APIs, for people to be able to program that. And then also talking about applications: how can applications really understand the capability of the network and leverage that. So that is the whole thinking behind when we launched Application Centric Infrastructure. The message there is that the entire infrastructure really has to understand application requirements. And sometimes the application requires realtime analytics distributed very fast… and other times it has to deal with 6 million people accessing data so it has to go back to the data center.

So our approach is creating that open ecosystem and all the way to the silicon. We do believe innovation needs to happen at the ASIC level and at the chipset level. We don't think that can be separated, because then all you are doing is you have a network and then you have an overlay software on top of that.

So, fundamentally, I think what we believe is that programmability needs to happen not just at an overlay software level but all the way to the chipset level.