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New Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins heads into "hyper-connected" mode

John Gallant | July 27, 2015
Robbins takes over at Cisco for John Chambers this Monday, promoting a hyper-connected architecture in the face of competition from white box makers and SDN proponents.

Realistically, we have a lot of technology competitors but when we think about what's required in helping our customers, one of the key things is going to be a very holistic ecosystem. We spent the last 15-20 years building up what I believe to be a huge competitive differentiation for Cisco, which is our ecosystem. As I think about our ability to execute with our customers, I actually think we're uniquely positioned right now. That doesn't mean we have every element of what they need, but it means that we have the network, which is the thing that's going to be pervasive. We have this distributed infrastructure capability, we have the ability to deliver analytics, provide automation and programmability at the application layer. I think we are uniquely positioned there.

I want to go back to a comment you made that you love when people try to compete at the product level. Is that to say you don't think that there's a significant enough shift in networking that a product-oriented networking company could make significant inroads against Cisco? I'll give Cisco credit here while you're mulling that because over the years, whether it's fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, wireless LAN, security, you have navigated those transitions. SDN would seem to be the next competitive landscape. Do you think that because of the 'holistic ecosystem' that it just would be too difficult for one of the competitors to really change the dynamic in networking?

You have two things going on. You have customers that buy into architectures because they're trying to get the business benefit now. If the ROI to digitize manufacturing floors or mining facilities or cities is defined well enough, they're not going to disaggregate the hardware to save 10%. They want to move with someone they trust who can help them implement that. On the flip side, if you have someone who is just looking at the upfront CAPEX cost on their technology, if that's their priority for some reason - and I would argue that if that is your priority, then you're probably in a pretty difficult space - then you're going to get squeezed by the whole white box play. You're going to get caught in the middle there and, classically, in these markets there's only room for one real low-cost player.

How do you envision the evolution of the network market? Obviously, your ambitions and your product set is bigger than that, but how do you see the network market evolving over the next say 2-5 years?

You're going to see this distributed capability all the way through the network out to the edge where the data exists. That's the biggest change that's going to occur. I also believe that the entire network needs to be programmable and automated. We can expose that so the applications that are ultimately delivering the value from the data fundamentally define the infrastructure they need to operate within. That plus the need to drive security. If you think about this massively distributed enterprise architecture and you think about a customer who's trying to build security there, the pervasive thing across that entire architecture is the network. It's been a tremendous transition over the last five years where customers are beginning to move from these point-product security solutions to thinking about the holistic architecture that they have to build for security. That's what the network is going to evolve to deal with, and it will be a combination of automation, software, hardware, programmability, security, analytics. Those are going to be the key values out of the network.


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