CEO Robbins wants more Cisco applications, cloud services

CEO Robbins said at the Live conference customers should expect a much higher percentage of future products to be delivered as Cisco applications or cloud services.

LAS VEGAS -- Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins is determined to make software and cloud services as lucrative as hardware in the networking company's product portfolio. And his commitment to that shift was evident at this week's Cisco Live customer conference.

During briefings with reporters, Robbins and his executive team discussed how the company's approach to switching, software-defined networking (SDN) and collaboration is evolving. Robbins is demanding more Cisco applications and cloud services to keep pace with the growing number of companies looking for an alternative to hardware-centric networking.

"A very high percentage of our new offers are going to be delivered that way [Cisco applications and services]," he said.

Product announcements at the show reflected that intent. Cisco unveiled security applications and services for the ISR 4000 Series branch router. The company also introduced a cloud-based console, called the Cisco Defense Orchestrator, for managing policies on next-generation firewalls, intrusion prevention systems and other security appliances.

Cisco has rebuilt the ISR into a platform for running Cisco applications and other virtualized software. Moreover, Cisco opened up the platform to third-party developers, which the company hopes will bring a diversity of applications for branch offices.

Cisco applications to drive more network automation

Over the next 12 to 18 months, Cisco intends to add more automation to its SDN architecture, called the Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), Robbins said. He said he believes SDN, which takes the control plane -- or packet processing function -- out of the underlying networking hardware and places it in software, will lead to the more advanced dynamic provisioning of network resources.

"That's the biggest shift you're going to see in infrastructure over time is the ability to dynamically provision it based on what's happening at the security level, at the application layer," Robbins said. "Rapid, self-realigning infrastructure, that will come over time."

We need to go faster and faster and faster. And then, when we get to that point, we need to go faster [again].
Chuck RobbinsCEO, Cisco

A step in that direction is Cisco's plans for a key ACI component, called the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller. Over the next year, the company plans to double down on extending APIC's policy-based orchestration capabilities to encompass compute, storage, networking and security, said Zorawar Biri Singh, who is the head of Cisco's cloud services and platforms unit.

"We're staying true to that [original] design of using ACI fundamentally as the blueprint for bringing together other parts of infrastructure -- security, compute, storage -- and tying that together," Singh said. "I think that changes the dynamic of how you'll see Cisco deliver fully integrated systems -- core infrastructure, core orchestration platforms, core service catalogs."

Cisco will deliver those systems from the cloud to help companies manage their hybrid cloud and on-premises infrastructures, he said.

Cisco switching

Cisco is also focusing on finding use cases that create new, long-term markets for its switches. Robbins said he believes the hardware's Power over Ethernet capabilities make it useful for the internet of things (IoT). "There are new use cases for switching that we think will continue to exist," he said.

Indeed, Cisco switches are being used today as the networking infrastructure for Philips' LED lighting systems for homes and offices. Cisco is in the early stages of developing technology that could use the company's cloud-based communications platform Spark as the user interface for controlling lighting and possibly other indoor office systems, said Rowan Trollope, the senior vice president in charge of Cisco's IoT and collaboration technology group. Cisco provides IP networks today for lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Such innovation is what's needed for Cisco to maintain its strength in networking. So, Robbins is pressuring his executive team to develop new products quickly. "We need to go faster and faster and faster," Robbins said. "And then, when we get to that point, we need to go faster [again]."

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