The 10 Biggest Cisco Stories Of 2014

Cisco's Year In Review

2014 was a busy year for networking king Cisco Systems.

The San Jose, Calif.-based company made its formal entry into the public cloud arena, flipped its collaboration and unified communications strategy on its head, and continued to turn up the heat big time on software-defined networking (SDN) archrival VMware.

In case you missed them, here are the 10 biggest Cisco stories of 2014.

10. Collaboration Comeback

It was a big year for the Cisco collaboration team.

Under the leadership of Rowan Trollope (pictured), Cisco's Senior Vice President of Collaboration, the networking titan churned out a slew of new collaboration and unified communications (UC) offerings in 2014, ranging from new video endpoints to a mobile app to UC platforms purpose-built for the SMB market.

At the Cisco Collaboration Summit last month, Chambers said Cisco is singing a different tune when it comes to collaboration, striving to make its UC line-up more accessible to small businesses and mobile users.

Partners – especially those who feared last year that Cisco was pulling out of the SMB collaboration market altogether – are applauding the change.

9. Goodbye, Silver

When Cisco updates its partner program it can introduce big changes to the way solution providers make money. That's why, when Cisco in March unveiled one of the most significant overhauls to its global partner program in years, it sure captured the channel's attention.

Launched at its Global Partner Summit in Las Vegas, the Next-Generation Cisco Channel Partner Program introduced significant changes to the Cisco partner certification structure. For starters, the Silver designation was eliminated altogether. Next, Cisco introduced new partner requirements around managed and cloud services, requiring Gold partners, for instance, to be selling a minimum of four Cisco cloud or managed services offerings.

Cisco said the changes were designed to nudge partners toward more services-driven sales, while investing more in cloud.

8. Peres' Big Move

Edison Peres, former senior vice president of worldwide channels at Cisco, had for more than a decade been the face of the Cisco channel.

But that all changed in May, when Peres was tapped to lead partner recruitment and enablement efforts for Cisco's new cloud organization and, especially, for Intercloud.

While they were sad to see Peres leave Cisco's formal channel organization, partners largely welcomed the move, taking it as a sign of Cisco's commitment to making Intercloud a channel-friendly play. In his new role as Senior Vice President of Cloud and Managed Services, Peres, a 12-year Cisco vet and CRN's Top Channel Sales Leader of 2013, is enabling Cisco partners to sell and grow their managed and cloud services offerings, including Intercloud. He still works closely with Cisco global channel chief Bruce Klein.

7. Cisco (Partially) Bows Out Of VCE

Cisco in October reduced its ownership stake in VCE, the converged infrastructure joint venture it created with VMware and EMC in 2009, from 35 percent to 10 percent, a move some partners took as a sign of more Cisco M&A activity to come.

Storage giant EMC bought out the majority of Cisco's stake for an undisclosed amount, bringing its total VCE ownership stake to roughly 90 percent. EMC absorbed VCE into its Information Infrastructure Business.

Despite Cisco's reduced stake, VCE said it remains committed to including Cisco products, such as its Application Centric Infrastructure and Unified Computing System, in the VCE Vblock road map.

Meanwhile, some partners said Cisco's loosened ties with EMC could open the door for the networking giant to make more M&A moves, especially in the storage arena.

6. Cisco's Internet Of Things Offensive

Cisco has been touting the Internet of Things (IoT) as a major opportunity for both itself and its partners for well over a year now.

But in 2014, the rubber finally seemed to meet the road, with Cisco introducing not only a number of new IoT products and platforms, but new partner specializations, as well.

In February, Cisco unveiled its new "fog computing" platform to accelerate IoT deployments, and in November launched three new partner specializations targeting the emerging IoT trend. And the partner opportunity, it seems, is rich; analyst group IDC predicts the global IoT market to reach $7.1 trillion by 2020.

5. Cisco's Invicta Woes

It was a bumpy few months for Cisco's UCS Invicta flash storage appliance, which the company temporarily stopped shipping in September after some customers complained of performance issues.

Cisco sells both a stand-alone UCS Invicta appliance and a version that's designed to scale out to a large numbers of users. While the stand-alone version resumed shipments in October, shipments of the scale-out version were delayed again that same month, with Cisco saying they would start up again sometime in its fiscal second quarter.

UCS Invicta is based off the technology Cisco gained through its 2013 acquisition of flash storage vendor Whiptail.

4. We're No. 1 In Blade Servers (In North America … By Revenue)

Cisco had something to crow about in June, 2014 when IDC released first-quarter market share statistics that showed it had climbed into the No. 1 spot in the North American blade server market by revenue share, besting HP, which had slipped to No. 2 for the first time since 2006. It was a major milestone for Cisco, which has only been in the space since the launch of UCS in 2009. Cisco's $306 million in North American blade server revenue accounted for 40 percent of the market in Q1, and it increased its share to 42.5 percent in the second quarter, IDC said.

3. The Cisco-VMware SDN Showdown

To be fair, all networking vendors – old and new – were battling this year for customer and partner mindshare when it came to software-defined networking (SDN). But one rivalry that especially heated up in 2014 was that between Cisco and VMware.

While Cisco continued to publicly bash the software overlay approach to SDN that VMware is taking with its NSX offering, VMware seemed to fire back in different ways, such as poaching Dominick Delfino, a key Cisco data center executive, to spearhead its own engineering operations.

Meanwhile, Cisco CEO John Chambers said in May he's confident Cisco will be able to lure customers off of NSX and onto Cisco's own Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) platform, telling analysts, "…I think you'll just see us knock them off one after the other."

2. Cisco Bets Big On Cloud

Cisco will always be known, first and foremost, for its roots in networking. But the tech giant this year also made a name for itself as a cloud provider with the launch of Cisco Intercloud.

Unveiled at its Global Partner Summit in March, Cisco's Intercloud strategy involves a mix of public, private and hybrid cloud services that are hosted in either Cisco's own data centers, or those operated by its partners.

While some solution providers are still fuzzy on how they fit into the Intercloud model, Cisco's cloud strategy is clearly picking up steam; the company in September added more than 30 new Intercloud hosting partners, and said those partnerships will help connect Intercloud to more than 250 datacenters in 50 countries around the world.

1. The New Face Of Cisco

Between the launch of its Intercloud strategy and a noticeably sharper focus on software, one thing became clear in 2014: the face of Cisco is changing. And changing fast.

This year alone, Cisco launched a new, dedicated cloud unit, staged its massive Intercloud offensive, and began transitioning its entire engineering organization to more of a DevOps approach. Meanwhile, the networking titan invested heavily in software, launching DevNet, a new online resource center for developers, along with its Cisco ONE software strategy. Cisco also said it's readying a software-focused partner program for next year.

Cisco did, however, face its share of challenges amid all that change. Cisco in August cut 8 percent of its global workforce, or about 6,000 jobs, and reported multiple quarters of lackluster financial results. Cisco's core routing and switching businesses also came under pressure as the SDN movement pushed on.