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What networking analysts are saying about Cisco's future

Has Cisco outgrown networking? One industry insider seems to think so. Plus, other analysts size up Cisco's future around security and intent-based networking.

In the afterglow -- or hangover -- of Cisco Live 2019, networking analysts shared their thoughts on the industry's dominant vendor. Their opinions on Cisco's future ranged from adoration to speculation.

Enterprise Strategy Group analysts Bob Laliberte and Jon Oltsik highlighted Cisco's intent-based networking and network security strategies, respectively. Meanwhile, industry insider Greg Ferro outlined how Cisco is moving beyond networking.

While Cisco's core business today is, in fact, networking, its future lies in new markets, Ferro wrote in a recent blog. As a result, anyone planning a networking career and investing in Cisco certification programs might want to heed Ferro's insights.

As evidence of Cisco's shift from networking, Ferro touched on three key areas: Cisco's financial reporting, acquisitions and certifications.

How emerging tech affects Cisco's future

Technically, in its financial reporting, Cisco doesn't itemize networking. Instead, networking makes up the bulk of the $7.5 billion revenue line item called infrastructure platforms. Semantics aside, the number is about half of Cisco's total $13 billion revenue. The $3.2 billion services line item, however, could also entail networking equipment.

"The Cisco story to shareholders is not about networking," Ferro wrote, "it's about services, applications and security -- where they are spending to grow their business."

For years, Cisco has banked on acquisitions to boost revenue and growth, and it continues to gobble up companies. As Ferro pointed out, however, Cisco has not made a networking acquisition since May 2017 when it snapped up Viptela for its software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology. Since then, Cisco has acquired other companies -- perhaps not squarely in the networking vein -- including security, hardware, cloud and sales management vendors.

As for certifications, Cisco announced this month at Cisco Live new DevNet certifications that focus on software development, which is becoming an important skill for networking professionals.

In addition to finances, acquisitions and certifications, Ferro listed several elements that have affected Cisco's future and the networking world at large. For instance, open source technology, white box services, public cloud infrastructure and SaaS have all made their mark.

Is a DevOps acquisition in the offing?

In further Cisco analysis, Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Jon Oltsik dissected the vendor's security strategy. Similar to Ferro's blog, Oltsik noted Cisco realizes network infrastructure is changing, thanks to SD-WAN, mobility and other internet trends. As a result, Cisco has recently beefed up its cloud-based security offerings, specifically its secure internet gateway, which aims to protect corporate and branch offices, as well as roaming users.

Cisco is also responding to the zero-trust security trend by seeking secure network connections among user devices and applications and across hybrid infrastructures. Over time, Cisco plans to provide an integrated, end-to-end, zero-trust security product, Oltsik wrote.

On cybersecurity, Oltsik said Cisco should focus on educating users and working closely with chief information security officers on mitigating cyber-risks. Additionally, he wrote, as public cloud computing moves security closer to application developers and DevOps, Cisco needs to form bonds with these emerging players and maybe make an acquisition in this area.

Oltsik's colleague, Bob Laliberte, wrote that Cisco continues to pursue its intent-based networking initiatives by rolling out AI and machine learning tools. At the Cisco Live user conference earlier this month, Cisco unveiled AI Network Analytics, a service designed to provide visibility and insights into network performance, as well as guided remediation for issue resolution. The new analytics tool can learn and baseline a customer's specific network environment and provide comparative benchmarks.

Cisco also announced DevNet Automation Exchange, a community-based developer center aimed to boost adoption of intent-based networking use cases for Cisco customers, Laliberte wrote.

As new technologies emerge, he added, "Cisco has always been able to innovate and adapt to virtually every major technology transition."

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