13 Nov Cisco Systems And Its Bridge To Possible

Cisco unveils new branding campaign at the Cisco Partner Summit 2018.   WILL TOWNSEND

Before I was an industry analyst, I spent a considerable amount of time working in the IT distribution channel. First at Compaq, then HP (after the merger of the two companies), and lastly at a number of smaller start-ups. Some of my fondest work experiences came from time spent with partners, whether it was on a roadshow as a product manager evangelizing the famous Compaq Deskpro desktop computer, or leading the North America channel sales team for Ergotron and helping establish the market for sit-to-stand computing solutions. With that in mind, I jumped at the opportunity to attend Cisco SystemsPartner Summit 2018 this week. The company launched several initiatives at the event, including a new branding campaign and enhancements to its SD-WAN and Catalyst switch family offerings. I would like to share my insights into some of these announcements.

Two flavors of SD-WAN served up with a side of security

Cisco claims that 55% of enterprises will select an SD-WAN offering in the next 12 months and I agree with this statistic. At my last count, over 60 different SD-WAN solution providers were in the market, both large and small. I believe this number will begin to rapidly consolidate in 2019 and a half dozen or so dominant players will emerge. I believe Cisco will be one of those SD-WAN victors for three reasons—its install base, customer choices, and its fully integrated security stack.

Cisco has a massive opportunity to convince its install base to upgrade their one million plus Cisco 4000 Integrated Services Routers. That should be low hanging fruit for Cisco and could equate to $2B in revenue alone. From a customer choice perspective, Cisco is casting a wide SD-WAN net with its acquisitions of Meraki and most recently Viptela. Meraki is geared towards companies that need to deploy a simple, lean IT staff solution, while Viptela is well-suited for large enterprises that need secure segmentation and advanced routing. I saw many partner heads nodding in agreement as Cisco executives explained this positioning on stage at the event.

Network security is a challenge for any organization, regardless of size, and I found Cisco’s announcement of a full security stack integration across its entire SD-WAN offering particularly compelling. The advantages are numerous—single instance management for SD-WAN deployment and security, and simplified cloud security management to name a few. Add in new Cisco DevNet learning labs and sandboxes for developers, a quick start service, and a partnership with Microsoft that monitors the Office 365 cloud and delivers a significant boost in application performance, and Cisco has seriously raised the bar for SD-WAN. All of these offerings should be available this current calendar quarter (4Q 2018).

 Catalyst adds wireless to its bag of tricks

Cisco claims that its Catalyst 9000 switch family was built from the ground up for intent-based networking. All of the products run on an open and programmable operating system and utilize a single software controller for automation and simplicity. The line has been lauded as the most successful product in the company’s history. The new Catalyst 9800 is the first in the line to feature a wireless controller. The wireless line extension can be run on-premises, in the cloud, or embedded virtually. A new mid-market and branch offering, the Catalyst 9200 Series, allows Cisco to sell its switch line more broadly. From my perspective, the promise of one operating system across wired and wireless deployments is compelling. It has the potential to make network management easier, new feature deployment faster, and automation a reality—freeing up IT staff for more value-added activities in supporting key lines of businesses.

Wrapping up

Given the continued momentum of both the Meraki and Viptela SD-WAN solutions (nearly 15,000 SD-WAN customers to date) and the ongoing success of the Catalyst line, Cisco is very well-positioned. I’m also impressed with CEO Chuck Robbins’ appointment of three new members to his executive leadership team: Amy Chang (leading collaboration), Oliver Tuszik (leading channel), and Gerri Elliott (leading a first-ever combined sales and marketing organization). I was impressed with the levels of energy, enthusiasm, and acumen they demonstrated on stage at Day 1 of the partner summit.

During the opening keynote, chief marketer Elliott presented Cisco’s new branding campaign “Bridge To Possible” with Star Wars actor John Boyega (a.k.a Finn) speaking to SD-WAN and its possibilities in his native British accent. I have to admit, the company had me with the Star Wars hook—I’m a self-professed Jedi nerd! It will be interesting to see if Cisco can also hook current and new customers with these highly software-defined networking solution offerings. May(be) the Force will be with them.