The 10 Biggest Cisco News Stories Of 2021 (So Far)

From seismic shifts in IT selling motions, to the biggest channel program changes in more than a decade and some M&A activity along the way, check out how tech behemoth Cisco has spent the first half of the year.

Making Moves

Cisco Systems is bouncing back from a rocky 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic made its mark on the tech industry. The company has spent the first half of this year working hard alongside its loyal partner base to deliver IT solutions to customers that they want, in the buying model in which they wish to consume IT.

The San Jose, Calif.-based tech giant has been on a mission for the last three years to further its software and services business and shift away from hardware. The company, under the direction of CEO Chuck Robbins, also vowed to transition the majority of its portfolio to an everything-as-a-service model. Robbins made it clear that every Cisco product would be evaluated, and nothing would be off the table. To that end, Cisco in April unveiled Cisco Plus, a new sales motion that is offering up networking, security, compute, storage, applications and observability solutions as-a-service to customers through channel partners. So far, the company has introduced its first two solutions as part of the Cisco Plus portfolio.

On the channel front, Cisco made news at the end of 2020 when the company promised big changes to its partner program structure. In 2021, Cisco made good on its pledge and rolled out the most significant changes in more than a decade. The newly simplified partner program honors the distinct roles that partners are playing with their customers, and it’s getting rave reviews so far from solution providers.

As if that wasn’t enough news, then came the acquisitions – three in the same month, in fact. Cisco so far this year purchased three companies and is in the process of closing another deal, including its $730 million IMImobile buy and pending Sedona Systems purchase.

Here are the 10 biggest Cisco news stories of the year, so far. ​

For more of the biggest startups, products and news stories of 2021 so far, click here.

10. Cisco Names Luxy Thuraisingam As Head Of Global Partner Marketing

In May, Cisco promoted Luxy Thuraisingam to its new head of global partner marketing, replacing Boon Lai. Thuraisingam, for her part, has nearly two decades of marketing experience, which includes supporting channel partners and emerging IT consumption models, such as cloud and everything as-a-service.

Thuraisingam started at Cisco in 2019 as vice president, Americas industry and Canada growth marketing. Cisco said that Thuraisingam was instrumental in transforming the Canada marketing culture. She earned the trust of sales stakeholders and partners and delivered exceptional business results. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Thuraisingam expanded her focus to include leading Cisco’s Americas industry organization.

Thuraisingam is reporting to Michelle Chiantera, vice president of Americas growth marketing and global partner segments for Cisco.

9. Cisco Cuts Webex Price, Taking Aim At Zoom

If there’s one thing Cisco has been heads-down focused on over the last 16 months, it’s beating arguably its biggest rival in the collaboration space: Zoom.

As part of that plan, Cisco rolled out more than 800 new features and capabilities in the last 10 months alone to its flagship collaboration platform, Webex. In fact, partners told CRN in June that Webex went from stodgy to cutting edge in the last 18 months. That’s thanks to the ramped-up development of the platform, which included the addition of anonymous questions, polls, and quizzes to boost Webex meeting participation this year.

Cisco in June also lowered the cost of the newly optimized Webex Suite and simplified the sale of collaboration technologies by offering an all-inclusive packaged Webex offering, called Webex Suite. At the same time, the vendor introduced a lower cost alternative to its marquee Webex Desk Pro video endpoint. Webex Desk is a less expensive desktop video device option for home offices and small huddle spaces.

8. Cisco Inks Deal To Buy Sedona Systems

May was a busy month for Cisco on the acquisition front. The tech leader revealed plans to buy Sedonasys Systems, also known as Sedona Systems, a maker of communications technologies.

Specifically, Cisco was interested in Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sedona Systems for its NetFusion platform, its Hierarchical Controller (HCO) for optimizing, simplifying and automating network control. The NetFusion platform automatically discovers, aggregates, and analyzes network data from multiple online systems and optical and IP sources, providing real-time, network-wide data. Cisco said that Sedona’s NetFusion platform joining the Cisco Crosswork portfolio will give the company the most advanced network automation platform for Cisco’s Routed Optical Networking Solution.

The two companies did not disclose financial details of the transaction. However, Israeli business news site Calcalist estimated the deal to be worth $100 million.

7. Cisco Buys Socio Labs

A day after revealing plans to buy Sedona Systems, Cisco announced plans to buy Socio Labs, an events technology startup based in Indiana. The tech giant closed the transaction in July.

Socio’s technology will now be integrated into Cisco’s popular collaboration platform, Webex, to strengthen its event hosting and large-scale conferencing capabilities. Socio Labs’ event technology platform gives meeting organizers the tools to host in-person, virtual or hybrid events of any size and format, according to the Indianapolis-based company. Together inside the Webex portfolio, event organizers will be able to create experiences that are inclusive for virtual and in-person attendees of any kind of event, Cisco said. The single platform will let event planners include highly customizable branded registration and ticketing experiences, collect data about attendees, and highlight sponsors and exhibitors, while engaging with attendees.

The two companies didn’t disclose financial details of the deal.

6. Cisco Purchases Kenna Security

First announced in May and closed by June, Cisco now owns risk-based vulnerability management specialist Kenna Security, which it bought for an undisclosed sum.

Cisco was interested in Kenna Security’s technology to help “radically simplify” security and improve customers’ overall security posture, the company said. San Francisco-based Kenna Security’s vulnerability management platform will help customers identify and prioritize an organization’s assets with a centralized, contextual view. It can also integrate with all major industry vulnerability assessment platforms.

Combined with Cisco’s threat intelligence SecureX platform, Kenna Security’s vulnerability management capabilities will help customers work cross-functionally to identify threats faster, improve collaboration between security and IT teams and reduce the attack surface, according to Cisco.

5. Cisco Buys IMImobile for $730M

In February, Cisco became the owner of center-as-a-service provider IMImobile PLC.

Cisco, via the terms of the deal, paid 595 pence per share in exchange for each share of IMImobile, or an aggregate purchase price of approximately $730 million assuming fully diluted shares, net of cash and including debt as publicly reported, based on the prevailing exchange rate at the time of the agreement, according to the two companies.

Cisco is combining IMImobile’s solution with Webex Contact Center. Now together, Cisco is creating an enhanced Cisco Contact Center platform that will bring together cloud contact center, artificial intelligence, experience management, collaboration and Communications Platform as-a-Service (CPaaS) to create a single solution for customers and channel partners, Cisco said of the deal.

4. Cisco Announces Three Leaderships Changes To ELT

Just in time for International Women’s Day 2021 in May, Cisco promoted three of its female leaders.

Fran Katsoudas (pictured), a 25-year Cisco veteran, was named Chief People, Policy and Purpose Officer. Katsoudas got her start with Cisco 25 years ago as a contact center agent. Since then, she moved up the ranks with the company’s HR team and has spent the last five years running Cisco’s People and Communities organization, most recently as executive vice president and chief people officer. In her newly expanded role as Chief People, Policy and Purpose Officer, Katsoudas will also oversee Cisco’s Global Government Affairs and Country Digital Acceleration team.

Liz Centoni, who has spent 21 years at the tech giant, is now leading Cisco’s Applications business as its Chief Strategy Officer and general manager, Applications. Centoni began as senior director of engineering for the tech company in 2000. She’s held a number of vice president-level engineering and strategy roles, including most recently being tapped to lead Cisco’s Emerging Technologies and Incubation group that was formed last March. Centoni served as senior vice president and general manager of IoT for Cisco for nearly two years before she was tapped as the leader of the Cloud Strategy and Compute business unit that was formed in 2019. In her latest promotion, Centoni is leading the company’s Applications business as Chief Strategy Officer and general manager, Applications, which will include alignment with Cisco’s cloud application monitoring business, AppDynamics.

Cisco also announced that Maria Martinez, a three-year Cisco leader, is now in the chief operating officer seat. Martinez was Cisco’s executive vice president and chief customer experience officer since 2018. In her new role as COO, Martinez is leading both operations and customer experience, which is a brand-new role for Cisco, the company told CRN.

3. Cisco Reveals $14B Software Revenue Run Rate

During the company’s Q3 2021 earnings call in May, Cisco revealed it has one of the largest software businesses in the industry with an annual run rate of north of $14 billion in software revenue.

Cisco Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins (pictured) shared that in the company’s third quarter, which ended May 1, the tech giant achieved $3.8 billion in software revenue. Software subscriptions accounted for 81 percent of its total software revenue, up sequentially from Q2 2021’s result of 76 percent, as interest in subscription-based solutions grow.

The company has working diligently for the last three years to transform its historically hardware-first approach to one that favors to more software and subscriptions.

“We remain focused on accelerating innovation while simplifying the adoption of our offerings, with network-wide automation, analytics, and flexible, as a service consumption models, all aimed at improving customers’ network performance capabilities, and security, which we believe will drive tremendous long-term opportunities for us,” Robbins said during the May earnings call.

2. Cisco Makes Biggest Changes To Partner Program In More Than A Decade

The tech giant in October said that it would be making the biggest changes to its partner program structure in more than a decade that would help partners better target life cycle and Everything as-a-Service opportunities. Cisco followed up that pledge in June, when it revealed its simplified partner program that is now recognizing and rewarding the four different roles that partners want to play with customers.

Cisco partners will be able to select the role or roles that best describe their business. Under the new program, solution providers that fall under the Integrator role—or Cisco’s “bread-and-butter” longtime partners—and are Gold-level, will have to have achieve Cisco’s Customer Experience Specialization by April 7, 2022. To help Premier-level integrators stand out more, Cisco is now requiring these Integrator partners to qualify for either two advanced architecture specializations or one advanced architecture and one business specialization. Additional rewards will follow Premier achievements, including VIP, Perform Plus and marketing benefits, Cisco said.

The provider role, which was built with the MSP partner in mind, will now better identify and recognize partners based on their investment in managed services and as-a-service solutions. Gold and Premier providers will be differentiated from the Select provider partners. Cisco is also upping its investments in Provider partners, with predictable pricing; deal registration for managed services; more flexible consumption options; dedicated investment and business development funds; technical support enablement; and co-marketing, the company said.

For Advisor partner types, Cisco will bring Advisor partners more deeply into the Cisco partner ecosystem and is scaling up the rewards for these partners, who used to be part of Cisco’s Consultant partner program. Cisco is also providing technical and strategic development resources, cooperative business development, co-sales and access to Cisco events for Advisor partners.

Across each of the four roles, Cisco is offering its sought-after Gold status. The company said it will also be differentiating more distinctly between Gold, Premier and Select partners.

1. Cisco Reveals As-A-Service Strategy: Cisco Plus

Perhaps the biggest piece of news this year so far from the vendor, Cisco made good on its 2020 commitment to delivering the majority of its portfolio “as a service” over time. As such, Cisco ripped the sheet off Cisco Plus in April.

Cisco Plus is the company’s as-a-service strategy that has been in the works with partners for more than a year, which is allowing customers to purchase Cisco IT in a flexible, consumption-based manner. At the April launch, Cisco introduced its first two new flexible consumption models for networking and hybrid cloud.

The Cisco Plus networking-as-a-service (NaaS) model that lets customers and partners operate and maintain their network, without owning, building and maintaining their own infrastructure. Cisco is rolling out a limited release of NaaS solutions year that will bring together networking, security and visibility services across access, WAN and cloud domains, in a pay-as-you-go fashion.

The Cisco Plus Hybrid Cloud solution as-a-service includes Cisco’s entire data center compute, networking and storage portfolio, as well as third-party storage and software, which is bringing together on-premise, edge and public cloud environments in a flexible consumption model.