The 10 Biggest Cisco Stories Of 2015

The New Cisco

Cisco underwent a historic transformation in 2015 in its internal leadership and its technology roadmap.

While other IT giants this year split apart, like Hewlett-Packard, or plan to merge, such as Dell and EMC, Cisco stayed in one piece with a vision toward a software future. The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant completely reorganized its leadership structure, named its first new CEO in two decades, shocked the industry with new technology partnerships, quit on its storage business and launched an acquisition assault.

It was certainly a year of realignment and reorganization for the networking giant with the ultimate goal of reaching similar highs it had reached in its heyday, about 15 years ago.

If you missed it, be sure to take a look back at the rest of the best of 2015 with CRN.

10. Software-Defined Networking Solution, ACI, Gains Momentum

Within two years of its first shipment of its software-define networking solution, Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), Cisco hit its 1,000-customer mark in September.

Cisco recently reported that it now has more than 5,000 Nexus 9000 "ACI ready" customers. Its SDN rival, VMware, has reported around 900 customers for its competing NSX SDN platform. ACI includes a mix of software, Nexus switches and its application policy infrastructure controller (APIC), which manages, creates, stores and enforces policies on the network.

In an interview with CRN in August, CEO Chuck Robbins said ACI is a better fit for enterprises compared to NSX. "We can actually put ACI in, we can implement it, we can drive it to scale, and I don't think that VMware has proven that they have that capability," he said.

Although the two companies' SDN rivalry appears to be marching on into 2016, Cisco in December improved its ACI support for VMware, while adding support for Docker containers. Cisco also launched a new hands-on training program this year to help partners develop new services practices through learning how to build applications on top of the open APIs in ACI.

9. Banking On An IoT Future For Its Channel

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said he believes the Internet of Things in the digital age is the biggest opportunity in the company's history. Cisco is predicting the IoT marketplace will generate $19 trillion in opportunities by 2020, with the company having a distinct advantage in the space by owning the network.

In 2015, Cisco launched a slew of new IoT products and services, technology partnerships and certifications, aiming to accelerate partner adoption into the emerging marketplace. The company even opened its own IoT Showcase Room inside its headquarters this year, where employees drive rapid innovations for the IoT solutions of the future.

"This is bigger than the first wave of the Internet. It has to be," Robbins said this year at Cisco's Global Editors Conference. "You cannot connect 50 billion things that have never been connected before and not achieve tremendous new value that wasn't created before."

8. Cisco Closes Failed Storage Initiative Invicta

Cisco's venture into the storage business ended this year with the closing of its Invicta storage business.

In 2013, the company purchased all-flash storage vendor Whiptail for $415 million, later renaming the technology Invicta. Solution providers said Cisco's Invicta business never really got off the ground. In a Q&A with CRN in October, Robbins said Cisco closed Invicta because, "primarily … it just wasn't working. And we're going to be more aggressive at making those decisions when we need to."

Cisco also sold its set-top Connected Devices business line of video and modem products to French communications and media provider Technicolor for $600 million.

7. New Apple Alliance

Cisco sent shock waves through the networking industry with the unveiling of an alliance with Apple that could bridge the consumer and enterprise worlds with the tightening of Apple devices and Cisco enterprise collaboration products.

Although channel partners are still uncertain if the partnership will benefits solution providers, CEO Chuck Robbins told CRN that Cisco's channel-centric sales strategy would influence Apple to become more channel-friendly.

Apple wasn't the only huge player the networking giant announced technology partnerships with in 2015. A potentially huge IoT alliance was formed between Ericsson and Cisco to develop next-generation service provider networks and new platforms and services targeting IoT. Cisco also unveiled partnerships with electricity distributor and global energy management company Schneider Electric and a new alliance with Verizon Enterprise Solutions to team up to offer a joint software-defined WAN service for enterprise customers.

6. Acquisitions Galore

Unveiling plans to buy three companies over as many days can summarize Cisco's aggressive M&A strategy in 2015. On Oct. 26, Cisco disclosed plans to acquire software data analytics and Internet of Things specialist ParStream to enhance its analytics at the edge of the network. The next day, the company revealed plans to buy security company Lancope for $452 million. A day later, Cisco announced plans to buy cloud-based video platform provider 1 Mainstream to complement its cloud-powered video entertainment solutions.

Although the financial terms for most of the 2015 deals were not disclosed, it's safe to say Cisco made plans to spend billions on acquisitions this year.

Other purchases in 2015 included cloud-based security specialist company OpenDNS for $635 million; OpenStack specialist Piston Cloud Computing; and cloud API platform provider Tropo, while Cisco also closed deals for MaintenanceNet for $139 million and India-based security software company Pawaa Software.

Rounding out Cisco's completed shopping list for 2015 are collaboration specialist Acano for $700 million; security consultancy form Portcullis Computer Security; and application-centric networking company Embrane.

5. Rise Of A New Rival?

Dell's blockbuster $67 billion bid to acquire EMC, which is expected to close in the third quarter of 2016, had caught the attention of Cisco partners, who said the combined company would make a more formidable opponent against Cisco and force its hand to buy a storage vendor in order to better compete.

Robbins said the acquisition could be used to Cisco's advantage as the deal would create instability in the market. "It just creates this massive period of instability in a world that's moving faster than we've ever seen," he said. "Think about the length of time between now and when this deal gets done … [It gives Cisco] the opportunity to move faster."

On the other hand, Dell CEO Michael Dell said the acquisition sets the stage for a "much stronger" relationship with Cisco.

Along with the possible new rival, Cisco's relationship with VCE also looked as if it might be crumbling with the Dell-EMC combination. VCE was formed in 2009 as a converged-infrastructure joint venture between Cisco, EMC and VMware, although Cisco has moved farther away from the relationship over the past few years. In an interview at CRN's Best of Breed Conference in October, Robbins made it clear that the 'C' would remain in VCE. In a joint statement later, EMC and Cisco pledged a complete commitment to VCE.

4. Cisco Extends Security "Everywhere"

Cisco arguably made its biggest push ever into the security market in 2015. It unleashed its "Security Everywhere" strategy, which blankets security throughout the extended network, while launching a barrage of network and security integration products throughout the year for channel partners to sell.

Cisco also acquired security specialist Lancope, which specializes in threat analysis and protection, as well as U.K.-based consultancy Portcullis Computer Security. Security became so important to Cisco that it even created a security-focused role for former CEO John Chambers.

Cisco's bullish goal is to own 20 to 30 percent of the $25 billion enterprise security infrastructure market over the next few years.

3. Software Focus

In 2015, Cisco feverishly tried to shed its image of a hardware routing and switching company and instead focused on software. Whether it was creating new services for partners, investing in its SDN capabilities or acquiring cloud-based software companies, Cisco is pushing for more than half of its channel partners to create a Cisco software practice as part of their business models in the near future.

Also, partners in early 2016 will closely watch the launch of Cisco's new Software Partner Program, which will offer new rewards and benefits tied to partners'' software investments.

Despite the move to software, nearly 60 percent of Cisco's fiscal year 2015 sales – about $22.4 billion – came from switching and routing.

2. Out With The Old, In With The New

Cisco continuously shocked its channel community throughout the second half of 2015 by confirming that top channel executives were leaving the company. In the months following the announcement that Robbins would be Cisco's new CEO, several top channel executives left the company, including global channel chief Bruce Klein; longtime channel veteran Edison Peres, who led of Cisco's Intercloud effort; and channel collaborative sales leader Richard McLeod.

Other notable leaders who left the company include Padmasree Warrior, chief technology and strategy officer; Gary Moore, president and chief operating officer; President of Development and Sales Rob Lloyd; and Edzard Overbeek, senior vice president for Cisco Services. Cisco went so far as to ban both Lloyd and Moore, who were seen as frontrunners for Chambers' job, from working at dozens of competing companies.

In their places, Robbins unveiled his new 10-person, "next generation" executive leadership team.

"I'm confident that this team is ready to lead Cisco's next chapter. They know how Cisco works, what makes Cisco great, and how we can accelerate our current momentum," Robbins wrote in a June blog post. "Their combined vision, passion and authenticity, along with a focus on strategy, results and innovation truly differentiate this team."

1. New CEO Robbins: "The People's Choice"

John Chambers, one of the most recognizable and longstanding CEOs in the IT industry over the past two decades, passed the reigns to channel veteran Chuck Robbins this year. To show how impactful Chambers was to not only the IT, but the world in general, renowned leaders such as President Bill Clinton, and former secretaries of state Hilary Clinton and Henry Kissinger weighed in on Chambers' legacy.

When it was unveiled that Cisco's board unanimously selected Robbins to become the company's new leader, channel partners rejoiced, hailing him as, "The People's Choice." Over his 18 years at Cisco, Robbins held titles that included senior vice president of worldwide field operations, senior vice president of the Americas, senior vice president of U.S. enterprise, commercial and Canada, as well as senior vice president of U.S. channel sales, among others.

Robbins seemed to jump right into "execution mode," reorganizing the company's leadership team with promises of creating a more agile, flatter and faster Cisco under his leadership. He began consolidating organizations, appointing new leaders and building smaller and more agile R&D teams. He also raised the bar for all Cisco-certified individuals and focused heavily on IoT. Channel partners say Robbins' fast-paced strategy has been "unprecedented" at the networking giant.