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Interview of Everything: Cisco CEO Chambers on white boxes, SDN, leadership and the cloud

John Gallant | May 6, 2015
Outgoing Cisco CEO John Chambers says Internet of Everything starting to live up to its promise.

You say you're spending a lot of time watching startups. Where do you see Cisco's next-generation competition coming from?

We called it four and a half years ago. My PR team kicked me when I said it at the Wells Fargo Conference, but I said it's going to be white label and it's going to be free software. I said it won't be IBM or HP servers or Dell. We'll beat them. I said it's going to be an architectural play for us to beat them but then it will be an architectural play that allows us to lead against white box or bare metal or free software. That's starting to occur now, too.

Sony [one of our customers] will show you how our total cost of ownership with ACI [Application Centric Infrastructure] is 40% less than a white box solution with free software. It's about cost of ownership. That's before you talk about architectures coming together and that's before you begin to combine architectures for business outcomes, but you can imagine somebody who does a white box solution who saves 10% on a switch and doesn't get the business outcome or worse, introduces a security violation that causes them $100 million to a billion dollars of damage. CIOs are not going to do that, especially if they understand it and the CEO understands it.

So that white box is really more of an initiative up at the very largest cloud providers?

No, I think it's a fair challenge across the board.

This is even enterprise applicable?

Yes, but the difference was if we'd waited and we'd stayed on boxes it would be a tough one. We've moved over the last five years -- and I wouldn't have said this if I didn't already have the plan in place -- to architectures. So our ability to beat the white box is actually pretty good.

John, do you plan to get stronger in storage?

We have focused on storage through partners and that has served us very well. At the present time we're focused with very key strategic relationships with NetApp, EMC and IBM. We will introduce storage at the edge, which we've been very upfront with, for the [Unified Computing System] UCS-type capability, and we're very much aware of what's occurring in the container-type capability as well.

What about leapfrogging those partners and getting stronger into the flash storage market as that is really starting to take off?

We do flash at the low end in terms of our acquisition there. It's more of a philosophy issue. There's probably, just for discussion, across our architectures let's assume that we're moving into 15 areas. Each one of them can do acquisitions or partnerships. We've got a lot of opportunities in software, which I want to move faster on and a lot of opportunities in security, which we want to move faster on, a lot of opportunities on consolidation, which I want to move faster on. The importance of focusing on where does storage fit into that and are you better off fulfilling it through a partnership role vs. doing more of it yourself is an important decision for us. We are making the decision at the present time to do it through partners.


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