Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins To Partners: The Importance Of DevNet And How IoT 'Is Coming Into Its Own'

Cisco's CEO Chuck Robbins sits down with CRN at Cisco Live to talk DevNet, the importance of small but strategic acquisitions, and the growing opportunities around IoT and automation that that partners should pursue.

Chuck Robbins Live

Cisco Systems continues to push its crowd-pleasing intent-based networking strategy, which has been given a shot in the arm recently with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. The tech giant, which celebrated it's 30th birthday this year at Cisco Live 2019, is focused on helping partners and end customers aggregate as much data as possible from all points of the network, including the most far-flung corners of IoT networks.

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins sat down with CRN at the event in San Diego this week to talk about the tech giant's latest DevNet news, the importance of small but strategic acquisitions, and the "ripe" opportunities that partners should pursue. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Regarding the new Cisco DevNet certification, how important is it for Cisco to recognize partners and customers that have not only work hard to hone their network engineering skills, but those who are also focusing heavily on software development?

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Many of our partners have already moved into this space. We've had partners who have already built application development practices or even acquired small companies that do that and it's something we have been worked on for several years. But I think now we are at a position where our entire portfolio effectively has APIs associated with it and there's such a broad-based understanding of coding mechanics and there's this whole notion of our Cisco-certified experts or architects that wanted take their knowledge, couple it with a coding capability, and be able to build nodules and be recognized for their knowledge. I think this is a very natural transition for us, and partners are excited to see it because they and our customers in the marketplace puts a lot of credence in a lot of the certifications already and I think they will do that with the [DevNet certification] as well.

How empowering will the DevNet Automation Exchange be for partners?

It's huge. I think there are going to be use cases there, but then partners are going to build their own intellectual property because if there are core capabilities someone puts out there, [partners] can layer innovation on top of it. One thing I've always believed about the APIs in DevNet are that it gives our partners the ability to create their own intellectual property. It's not like it was seven years ago or ten years ago where partners competed on their services capabilities, but it was still around our intellectual property largely. Now, that’s not true in every case, but now more [partners] are able to build IP that is unique to them and it's just another thing that continues to help them drive their profitability and helps keep them from having to compete on the price of the product all the time -- it's just something else that can create value in their business.

Do you believe that being able to "reward" staff with software development certifications will help partners bring on and retain the right kind of talent as they, like Cisco, make the pivot to focus on software?

To the extent that we, with our partners, are investing in individuals so they feel like they are learning and becoming more valuable resources, I think that's obviously great. I think it's also recognition for our partners who believe that these certifications are important, because that says that they are thinking about the future. Partners who don’t think these certifications are important are probably going to remain infrastructure experts, which is fine, they can do that, I just think there will be plenty of partners that will be looking at the opportunity that are actually writing applications and use cases on top of platforms that will have significant value. Over time, I think there's an opportunity with the Automation Exchange. Today, it’s a repository to help all partners, but over time we could think about strategies to actually help them take their products to market, which I think would be super valuable for our partners.

Do you plan on doing more small but strategic acquisitions such as the Sentryo deal Cisco announced last week for industrial IoT security?

We've done a lot of those over the last few years and they are really important. In this particular case, what many of our customers want us to build is more of an automated discovery and identification of devices capability so that when they don’t know what's on network, we can build in more capability to understand what those devices are over time. It helps them drive more intelligence that feeds the segmentation strategy we have. It was important because that deal was in IoT and security, and it actually has a play in software-defined access. So, we will continue to do those as we find assets that bring unique capabilities for sure.

Where do you feel you could use more security, and what kind of technologies might you look at to fill out security?

IoT was a big area. We made a big move with Sentryo which is really important. I think the great thing is that our team has built an architecture that is extensible so when you build an architecture that has this massive state machine in the cloud, as long as you can get threats to it, then it can actually process them and gain insights from them, so any threat source we can possibility get is good. You'll see us continue to look for technologies like that and build technologies and expand on the Duo [Security] capability. Identity is the new perimeter so it’s a big focus and I think it's an area is that is going to be a bigger investment area for us because it’s the only part of our business where we have active adversaries that continue to evolve.

You mentioned at Cisco Live that it's important to know when technologies make sense and are mature versus those that are too new. Are there any technologies that you think are finally ripe enough for partners to pursue?

I think IoT is coming into its own. We've talked about it for a decade, maybe longer, and I think we are seeing real use cases in what partners can do. And the use cases we're seeing are industry-specific. We are seeing some in manufacturing, retail, oil and gas and energy, and in electric, so I think that’s an area that clearly is ready.

I think this automation piece is a big thing for partners because getting customers from the old way -- which was very complicated -- to this newer way of doing business, it’s a journey. You have to really understand what is going on and build new operating processes and learn how you run your IT operations in this new world. I think it's an area partners can build processes around. I think a lot of the new technology areas, [such as] collaboration and the AI work that [Amy Chang, senior vice president of Cisco Collaboration] and her team have done with "cognitive collaboration" -- we need our partners to help us articulate that value to our customers and really make sure [end customers] understand it. And then again, integrating all of that is a big opportunity for partners, so I think there is a lot of opportunity and based on what our teams are delivering, I think we will continue to provide more opportunities for them.

How critical is artificial intelligence and machine learning to the next step in the evolution of intent-based networking?

Very important! Any time you can aggregate the number of data points that we can help customers aggregate out of the network -- you are going to need to be able to continue to evolve the algorithm and continue to learn as you see different things occurring because it's all happening so fast, so building capabilities that allow for adaptive learning based on the data set you're seeing. I think it's incredibly important. I think the work we are doing now in this area is a great example of how we talk about AI not being a business -- it actually enables all of our abilities and that’s the way we are going to think about it.