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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.

Fair enough. Given all of the potential benefits of SDN, why aren't customers excited about it at this point? Or why aren't a lot of customers excited about it?

It's like many new technologies. There are some very specific use cases that exist today that do lend themselves to our ACI [Application Centric Infrastructure] architecture and we see uptick on our customers that are looking at that application integration. I just think it's in the early stages.

Going back to the analogy that server virtualization was relatively inexpensive and a big win from a cost perspective, network virtualization is expensive and the payoff is farther out.

It gets back to the fact that we're solving a different problem than we were solving with server and storage virtualization. It's a little more complicated when you're integrating, trying to define what an application policy is, and then having that get implemented through the infrastructure. Customers are going to take their time. This is happening in the most strategic part of the IT infrastructure today, which is sitting in the data center. But look at our history, what we've done as a company - and this is why I think this is right in our wheelhouse, as is the Internet-of-everything digitization. Cisco has built this company on this notion of convergence and adding more value for our customers on top of it. Local-area network protocols all converging to IP, SNA, voice convergence, video convergence, wired-wireless - even enterprise and service provider converging. We drove converged infrastructure in the data center. ACI is the convergence of the application and the infrastructure. I joke that when I used to write code back in the '80s, you wrote applications under a set of hopeful assumptions about the environment in which they were going to operate. Today we can actually give them that convergence so they can define the environment in which they operate. If you look at the Internet-of-things, the Internet-of-everything digitization, it's the next wave of convergence. That's what we do. We converge those technologies and then we add value above that for our customers. That's why we think these are very natural for us.

You have been involved in a lot of Cisco's acquisitions and deals over the years. How is your strategy toward acquisitions different from John's? What should people expect?

When I come into this job, I step back and say: Okay, what's worked and what do we need to tweak? What does the future require us to do differently than we've done in the past? I've talked to our team about [combining] the best of today plus the best of what we need to do in the future. If you look at our acquisition strategy and our execution, that's one of those areas that you would say we've done reasonably well. Now you could always, as John would say, pick out a Flip [video company] and have fun with that. But the reality is our acquisition strategy has been a core part of our innovation plan over the years. Our acquisition strategy will remain relatively consistent. We don't think big ones work very well. We have our thoughts around cultural alignment, geographic proximity to facilities, all those things. But if I step back and look at our overall innovation strategy, I think it will continue to be made up of internal R&D, our M&A and, increasingly, even more interesting partnerships. As we move into these industrial systems you see us partnering with Rockwell and Schneider and Emerson and the like. Then the other two we're beginning to do are co-innovation and co-development with customers, as well as our venture fund or our investment portfolio. You'll see us be even more aggressive there with a much tighter alignment to our overall innovation strategy.


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