Cisco execs pledge simpler, more integrated networks

Is this the end of Switchzilla's dashboard creep?


Cisco Live In his first in-person Cisco Live keynote in two years, CEO Chuck Robbins didn't make any lofty claims about how AI is taking over the network or how the company's latest products would turn networking on its head. Instead, the presentation was all about working with customers to make their lives easier.

"We need to simplify the things that we do with you. If I think back to eight or ten years ago, I think we've made progress, but we still have more to do," he said, promising to address customers' biggest complaints with the networking giant's various platforms.

"Everything we find that is inhibiting your experience from being the best that it can be, we're going to tackle," he declared, appealing to customers to share their pain points at the show.

Cisco tightens integrations

A quick glance over the company's announcements this week reveals a common theme along these lines: tighter integrations between the company's existing product portfolios aimed at saving customers the trouble of flipping between multiple dashboards just to do their jobs.

"As an industry, we delivered more and more power, more sophistication every step of the way," said Todd Nightingale, EVP of enterprise networking and cloud at Cisco, during the keynote. "As we drove more sophistication, we unlocked things we never thought possible. But at the same time, too often, we passed the burden of complexity onto you."

Nightingale highlighted efforts to consolidate Cisco's two campus networking portfolios as an example of its intent, as Catalyst campus switching portfolio can now be managed and deployed in the same dashboard as Meraki wireless access points and gateways.

"No longer will we have to choose – nor will any of your teams have to choose – will they buy Meraki hardware or Catalyst hardware," Nightingale promised, adding that Catalyst hardware can be managed via the CLI, using DNA Center, or from Meraki's cloud dashboard.

Likewise, in the datacenter, Cisco revealed a cloud-based portal for its Nexus switch family that ties directly into its Intersight server-management platform. The combo enables customers to deploy and network their workloads all in one go. And for network disruptions outside the campus or datacenter perimeter, Cisco unveiled new functionality built on its ThousandEyes network performance monitoring stack, designed to predict and mitigate internet outages before they happen.

Liz Centoni, chief strategy officer and GM of applications at Cisco, said predictive functionality – alongside a tighter integration with the company's AppDynamics and Intersight platforms – allows dev teams to pinpoint disruptions faster and take preemptive actions to avoid them in the future.

The idea of stitching together functionality across Cisco's portfolio also extends to the security domain.

"Fifty-six percent of the breaches that occur, occur because of negligence. They don't occur because someone has actually had malicious intent," Jeetu Patel, EVP and GM of security at Cisco, told the keynote audience. "We have to make sure that this technology, to Chuck's point, gets to be simpler."

This complexity, he added, is driving customers toward tightly integrated services as opposed to point products.

The company bills its Secure Connect secure access service edge platform – which is built on Meraki – as the answer. The platform offers a full suite of networking and security services, ranging from SD-WAN and cloud firewalls to zero-trust network access, cloud-access security broker, and secure-web gateway under a single product.

Choice

What is important for Cisco's future "is this idea that we can combine domains into one user experience, stop shipping our org chart, and bring you simplicity and power without compromise," Nightingale said.

And according to Cisco, this not only means offering customers a simpler, more tightly integrated experience, but doing so without forcing them to adopt consumption models for which they aren't ready.

While the networking giant hasn't given up on its network-as-a-service ambitions – it still plans to offer all of the aforementioned services on a subscription basis – the company says the pivot to this model won't spell the end of established consumption models.

Robbins assured the crowd: "We want to give you the option of purchasing as a service or buying it the way you traditionally bought it. That's our commitment to you." ®


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