Fierce Network Research Bulletin

Cisco: We were unprepared for the cloud. But we’re ready for AI

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Fierce Network Research Bulletin, where we we just flew in from the Cisco Live conference in Las Vegas (and boy are our arms tired). This week, we’re talking about Cisco’s AI strategy and why it’s a new direction for Switchzilla. Read to the end for a link to our upcoming webinar about network automation and AI on Tuesday, as well as the Dropped Packet.

  • Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins admitted the company was unprepared for the cloud revolution
  • But Cisco is ready for AI, with plans to address the challenges of distributed networking, such as observability and security
  • New buzzword dropped: “Digital resilience.”

CISCO LIVE, LAS VEGAS — In a rare admission of a blunder by the CEO of a billion-dollar company, Cisco chief Chuck Robbins said the vendor was unprepared and left behind by the cloud revolution.

But Cisco is ready for AI and prepared to lead, he added.

“We didn’t participate in the infrastructure side of the cloud play, or the cloud evolution. Our enterprise customers didn’t think of us as having a real role at the time in how they thought about clouds,” Robbins said during a Q&A with analysts and journalists Tuesday. “There were a whole lot of things we didn’t capture.”

But Cisco is in an utterly different position with regard to AI, the Cisco chief said. “I think this time it’s the complete opposite, in that we have all those things.”

Robbins continued, “I think [AI] is just going to infiltrate everything over the next few years. And it’s going to be everywhere. It’s going to be in private data centers, public data centers, it’s going to be embedded in applications. It’s going to be at the edge. It’s just going to be everywhere.”

And Cisco will be all over it, Robbins said, along with other Cisco leaders speaking in three hours of keynotes and Q&A at the first official day of Cisco’s customer and partner event this week.

The bitstream brontosaurus announced a barrage of AI programs and services this week, including a $1 billion AI investment fund, partnership with NVIDIA to offer a new HyperFabric for AI clusters in data centers, AI innovations for Cisco ThousandEyes service for visibility and assurance in public and on-premises cloud environments, and security updates powered by AI and that also protect AI.

The strategy and products Cisco outlined were noteworthy in that they were a cohesive whole—networking hardware, visibility software and security technology that all worked together and was embedded in a foundation of AI. As Cisco sees it, AI makes the products and services work, and the products and services enable AI to work on behalf of the customer. For example, HyperFabric is optimized as a cloud infrastructure to optimize AI models and run AI-enabled applications, and ThousandEyes observability uses AI to optimize performance of the HyperFabric.

Cisco’s cohesive strategy and story were a contrast to previous Cisco Live events, where the products and services often seemed unrelated to each other. This time, everything hangs together.

Distributed networking

Distributed networking is a key challenge Cisco is seeking to address for its customers. With applications running on multiple cloud platforms, IT infrastructure is no longer owned by the enterprise and running in its own data centers.

“You don’t have the control of everything like you used to, which in turn limits your ability to gain truly effective insights,” Robbins said at the keynote Tuesday.

Cisco sees its scale and the breadth of its portfolio as uniquely enabling it to serve enterprise needs, Robbins said.

“There are companies out there who can do parts of the connectivity layer for you. There are companies out there that can do parts of the security architecture for you. And there are companies out there who can deliver some of the insights—what we call observability—for you,” Robbins said. “Only Cisco can actually connect you and protect you and provide you insights across every domain if the technology—hybrid cloud, multi-cloud, SaaS applications, remote users, IoT devices—and actually help you bring all of that together and get unparalleled visibility into what’s going on in your technology architecture.”

Buzzword bingo

Cisco leaders used the phrase “digital resilience” to describe its strategy. Cisco has insight into more than 1 billion endpoints, generating 400 billion security events per day, with Splunk ingesting 4 petabytes of data into its network monitoring cloud. Cisco uses AI and analytics to digest all that data and deliver insights to help its customers, Robbins said.

“AI is a major technology transition that is absolutely going to benefit incumbents, because the biggest data set wins,” Robbins said.

Cisco’s mission is to combine its data with infrastructure to help its customers’ employees “deliver an incredible experience” as they interact with customers,” Robbins said.

“Ultimately, we’re striving for digital resilience,” Robbins said.

Digital resilience incorporates security, compliance and avoiding reputational risks, business impact, outages and IP theft, said the Cisco boss.

“Digital resilience means you continue to deliver a good experience regardless of any potential disruption to networking,” said Jonathan Davidson, EVP and general manager of Cisco Network, during the keynote. Digital resilience requires proactive intelligence, predictive recommendations and automated remediation.

New digital experience assurance capabilities in Cisco’s ThousandEyes observability cloud provides a view into the on-premises LAN, the WAN as well as the multi-cloud. “ThousandEyes is capable of correlating layers of networking spanning the entire global area network using advanced AI-native algorithms to evaluate all discrepancies,” Davidson said. Any device that can run a container — including phones, laptops, home broadband gateways, switches and routers — can run the ThousandEyes agent.

ThousandEyes does 5 billion synthetic measurements daily. “Without this scale, every other tool is a toy,” Davidson said.

He added, “This new level of digital experience assurance is a fundamental change from where the industry has been literally for decades.

Dreadlocked drummers command the stage before the Cisco Live keynote
Dreadlocked drummers command the stage before the Cisco Live keynote featuring CEO Chuck Robbins. It was great but also kind of a lot at eight in the morning.  (Mitch Wagner for Fierce Network)

CSPs are VIPs

Communication service providers will be critical partners to Cisco and its customers in delivering AI and intelligence to the network edge, connecting 60 million nodes through 40 carrier partners around the world. The population of connected cars alone is expected to explode by 2030, with only 10% of cars connected today, Davidson said during a Q&A with press and analysts Monday. Retail branches will become tightly linked with consumer mobile devices. CSPs will be essential to delivering that edge connectivity.

Customer commendation

Cisco customer PTC approved of this week’s vendor news.

“I think it’s all the right steps,” PTC infrastructure VP Michael Blake told Fierce. “A lot of what we heard here in the last couple of days is consistent with our direction.”

PTC provides product lifecycle management software to manufacturing companies; it’s both a Cisco customer—using Cisco servers and networking to run its Servigistics software as a service—and supplier, as Cisco uses PTC’s software in its own manufacturing process. Cisco highlighted PTC in a video presented during the Tuesday keynote, and we spoke with company leaders 1:1 later that day.

PTC prioritizes standardization, consolidation and consistency in its data center product choices, to simplify operations. “Cisco is coming to the same conclusion,” Blake said.

We’ll have more on what PTC is doing with Cisco products and services soon.

Driving to DevOps

GlobalData analyst Charlotte Dunlap sees the Cisco direction as driving to DevOps, where they will face stiff competition from the likes of IBM, Oracle and VMware, who have platforms she sees as more comprehensive than Cisco’s, particularly in the areas of automation and AIOps.

“They need to pump up their AIOps story,” Dunlap said. And indeed Cisco is bolstering AIOps through its partnership with Cloudfabrix, she said.

However, she noted that Cisco thinks of AIOps as part of its observability solution, particularly visibility into networking Layer 7, as stated by Davidson during the press and analyst Q&A.

“The challenge we’ve always had for networking was we didn’t know what the experience was for the user of the application,” Davidson said.

He cited the hypothetical example of a nurse using a handheld device to find out what medication she needs to take to a patient. If the back-end database isn’t working, it’s better that the nurse be informed of the problem proactively rather than simply opening a trouble ticket. “We believe that we are the only company on Earth that can go in and tie Layer 7 to network visibility and then correlate that back and take action on that,” Davidson said. “You can call that whatever brand you want. I call it digital experience assurance.”

He added, “I think this capability will dramatically simplify the lives of everyone and increase the uptime of every structure in the world.”

Control Plane

What I'm reading this week

I haven't done much reading this week—I was too busy rubbing elbows with Cisco, its partners and customers, and also getting ready for our big webinar on Tuesday.

My colleague Steve Saunders was right there with me in Vegas, and he sees Cisco’s strategy as a first step toward the Smart Cloud, a digital infrastructure that will transform civilization and restore American primacy. No pressure, though.

What I'm watching for next week 

  • Apple's big software event, the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). Expect news at the keynote about the new versions of its iPhone and Mac operating systems and new services, heavily infused with AI (June 10)
  • AT&T addresses Wall Street analyst at the Bank of America conference (June 11)
  • Fierce Network webinar: Transforming telco networks with automation and AI (June 11)

A webinar, you say?

Why, yes! Perceptive of you to pick up on our subtle hints. 

Join us Tuesday, June 11 at 2 pm ET to explore the revolutionary impact of automation and artificial intelligence on telecommunications networks. This session is tailored for network technology decision-makers, strategists and anyone interested in the intersection of AI, automation and telecommunications. Find out how telco technology leaders are implementing AI and automation to enhance network efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Register here: Transforming Telco Networks With Automation and AI

Dropped packet

Bluesky post screenshots

That’s the Fierce Network Research Bulletin for this week. If you want more Fierce Network in your inbox—and you know that you do!—sign up for our daily newsletters here._