27 Jun Cisco Live Day 1: All In On The Network Intuitive

Cisco’s Chuck Robbins presents at Cisco Live 2017

It’s been a busy few weeks for us analysts, with HPE Discover, the AMD EPYC launch, and Lenovo Transform held last week. No rest for the weary though—this week I’m attending Cisco Live in Las Vegas. Cisco Live is the networking powerhouse’s premier annual event (this year marks the 28th event), and one I always particularly look forward to. While a lot of the focus over the past year has been primarily on Cisco Systems Corporate Social Responsibility and marketing efforts (which I wrote about here and here), there’s been a noticeable pivot towards new technology announcements, with the announcement last week of its new intent-based networking systems (more here). I went into Cisco Live excited to hear more about that, and to see what else they’ve been working on. Here’s my recap of Chuck Robbins’s opening keynote from Day 1, and my take on it. Net-net, Day 1 was strong reinforcement of the Network Intuitive, important as this is one basis for the company’s future success.

The opening light and music show was one of the best if not the best I have ever seen. I can’t get that darn song out of my head either.  I really liked that the stage was in the center of the auditorium as it pulled more of the audience in and felt more inclusive. I bring this us not because I am an entertainment analyst, but rather I see it as a gauge of excitement and energy, important in high tech. The energy was big and the bass was so loud I could feel it.

Chuck Robbins kicks things off

As these enterprise keynotes typically go, Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins took the stage first. He gave a brief lesson on the history of networking, from the first computer, to the rise of the internet, to the modern era of mobile and cloud. He emphasized that in 2016, the world reached an inflection point—an era of massive connectivity across billions of devices—and the opportunities to extract data and valuable insights using AI and Machine Learning. Robbins emphasized that while these connections have the potential to change the world (with as many as 1 million new connections per hour by 2020), it’s important get three things right. First, Cisco has to connect at a scale that’s never been done before. Second, Cisco has to remove the complexity of these connections to improve speed. And lastly, and arguably most importantly, Cisco must ensure security is built into every single thing that the company does.

Today I had the chance to speak directly with Chuck Robbins, and complexity, or the removal of it on all products, while keeping products feature-rich, is paramount for him.

I have seen 50 different versions of the “data and connections getting bigger”, and the 1M connection per hour really stuck. Given the difficulty in planning, setting up, securing, changing, and managing networks, reducing network complexity must be a mandate or we will never support that many end points.

“A new network for a new era”

Robbins emphasized the importance of this particular Cisco Live, saying that some years just feel “bigger”.  On that note, he launched into the new intent-based networkannounced last week, a network designed to navigate within a multi-cloud world, that seeks to meet the three criteria listed earlier—the ability to connect at scale, the ability to remove complexity, and the assurance of security. He recapped the main differentiators of the new network—intent, context, and intuition. In order to do this, Robbins said, Cisco had to totally rewrite 25 years of software, as well as the iOS—a serious reinvention. Impressively, he said they were “done”, indicating to me that the Network Intuitive is “real” and “here”.

Robbins reiterated the Cisco Digital Network Architecture (or DNA) center—the command center for this new network, that serves as a data analytics platform. He went on to talk about the newly announced Catalyst 9000 (9K for short) portfolio of switches, which Cisco is calling the “premier enterprise switch in the world.” The switch is highly programmable, IoT/mobile/cloud ready, includes a new operating system, and to top it all off, looks great—designed by the same team that designs the Ferrari. What few have actually discussed is that the discussion on the Network Intuitive is about the edge, not the core. I believe Network Intuitive will come to the core, but later. Strategically, it’s better for Cisco Systems to convey one network, not two. This makes so much competitive sense as Cisco owns the core, not so much the edge.

Robbins also referenced Cisco’s new Encrypted Traffic Analytics capabilities, which uses machine learning to pick out cyber-threats embedded within encrypted traffic—to an impressive degree of accuracy, and all without compromising privacy.

Robbins emphasized that all of these new technologies weren’t just some pie-in-the-sky project Cisco is working on—it’s actually already here, and in trials with 75 leading global organizations.

I have to say, it is really good to see Cisco finally leaning into edge compute and the intelligent edge, with DNA, the 9K, containers, and VMs. I think this new, intelligent network model is exactly what the industry needs to meet the current and coming big data challenges. Cisco has a huge opportunity in edge compute, if they want to go there strong.

Robbins then took some time to talk about one of Cisco’s big name customers, Chevron, who for years has utilized data from oil rig sensors to gain various insights. Traditionally, that data had to be collected, and sent back to a central location to be reviewed by an engineer, or the engineer was brought to the data on the rig. Neither of these options were optimal—both could take weeks to accomplish. Cisco worked together with Chevron to implement the IoT Edge platform to capture the data and deliver it via the internet back to the engineer. This process reduced the amount of time for insights dramatically, in some cases from two weeks down to two seconds. Robbins cited this as evidence of what is possible with a new network, that takes into consideration a centralized public cloud, SaaS, and an “increasingly powerful and robust” edge. This was an excellent edge use can (pun) that clearly shows the value of having compute closer to the data.

Chevron seeing edge compute benefits

Robbins then leaned into the topic of security, and the need to reduce the complexity with integrated threat defense. He showed a visual of an airplane comprised of a hodgepodge of different, incompatible parts, and compared that to the current state of security. Robbins is spot on- this is what it looks like and CISOs are getting frustrated. He emphasized the need for a security architecture that meets you were you are, defends everywhere, but recognizes that some threats will always get in—detection and remediation are essentially just as important as defense. According to Robbins, the answer to this is Cisco’s Talos integrated threat defense system, which boasts hundreds of thousands of customers, tens of millions of users, hundreds of threat analytic engineers, and blocks as much as 7.3 trillion threats annually.

What doesn’t get enough ink is that Cisco is the #1 enterprise security company. $4B in acquisitions help but there are home-grown technologies in the mix, too. The key for Cisco moving forward is to assure that the security offerings continue to be integrated but also stay on the cutting-edge. I had a good conversation with both Cisco’s Jeff Reed and Prashanth Shenoy about the success of keeping good security talent.

A chat with Apple’s Tim Cook

Robbins then brought his first guest of the day on stage—Apple CEO, Tim Cook. Cook led off by saying that at Apple, they “want to make the best products to change the world.” Cook went on to say that Apple became interested in the enterprise after seeing that the user experience was not particularly good, despite a lot of money being thrown at it. Apple wanted an opportunity to do in the enterprise, what it’s always done best in other arenas—improving user experience by brining simplicity into the equation.  Apple needs partners to be most successful in the enterprise as consumer DNA is in the Apple blood.

Apple’s Tim Cook makes a surprise visit to Cisco Live

Cook talked about the newly announced iOS 11, and mentioned some of the areas Cisco and Apple have been working on together— from advanced thread detection, to creating a fast lane (optimizing Cisco networks for Apple iOS devices and apps), to collaboration tools like WebEx and Spark. Robbins and Cook also talked about wi-fi analytics, and the need for users to be in control of the configuration and prioritization of connectivity. Cook went on to say that in a world where cybersecurity threats are growing exponentially, Apple and Cisco are being regarded now as the most secure partnership in the enterprise. Cook wrapped up by making the case that cyber insurance companies should really charge less for an Apple/Cisco enterprise, due to the high levels of security the two companies bring to the table. This is an interesting thought, and I tend to agree with it.

It was a big deal that Cook got on Cisco’s stage and I see that as a big commitment to Cisco. While the first deliverables from the Apple-Cisco partnership have been relatively narrow, I have to believe that it will grow in the future. It needs to make a dent in the Windows world.

Cisco partnering with UnitedHealth Group

CEO of UnitedHealth Group, David Wichmann joins Chuck Robbins on-stage

Robbins’s second and final guest of the keynote was CEO of UnitedHealth Group, David Wichmann. Wichmann led off by emphasizing the importance of data protection in the realm of healthcare, and how the healthcare services businesses is built on three important competencies—information, security, and presentation. He went on to say that there is no more sought after data than that of healthcare patients—security is absolutely paramount. Robbins stated that one of the things the two companies have been working on together is using technology to improve the overall customer experience. In order to illustrate this, the we then were shown a video—a hypothetical story about a woman diagnosed with breast cancer, and how UnitedHealthcare might utilize technology to help schedule treatments, checkups, connect with other patients, and more. It was a touching example of what could soon be possible with the collaboration between the two companies but lacked details.

CSR and touching a billion people

Robbins concluded the keynote with a video reiterating Cisco’s CSR commitments to being global problem solvers. While CSR didn’t take up much space in today’s keynote, this commitment has really been a big part of Robbins’s short tenure. While it’s obviously important for Cisco to continue innovating and moving forward with new technology, I think it is good for the company to keep its CSR program visible and active. Hats off to Cisco SVP Tae Yoo on her team’s commitment, approach and delivery of world-class CSR.

Wrapping up

I’ve got to say, this keynote really delivered, in my opinion. Robbins is a total rock star—engaging, informative, and empathetic. While there weren’t a lot of new announcements made on Day 1, it was nice to hear more about the intent-based network, and hear from some of Cisco’s biggest partners. Stay tuned for our recap of Day 2—we’ll have a lot more to talk about.