Here in the bowels of the Mandalay Bay’s convention center, where Interop is taking place (not only has Networld+Interop trimmed its name, it has moved from the Las Vegas Convention Center to the Mandalay Bay and announced a new New York City-based December edition), Cisco CEO John Chambers, as usual, gave the kick-off keynote for the event.
Chambers' core message: The ever elusive productivity gains that can drive efficiency and profitability are now hiding in interactions (as opposed to transactions); to unlock them, the “cloud” that once defined a network's boundaries must grow to encompass the applications and services in a way that delivers a centralized view of digitized information anytime, anywhere, and in any mode that the information consumer wants.
With no teleprompter (I looked), Chambers was all polish and pizzazz. He walked up and down the ballroom's aisles, paced back and forth across the stage, and even leaped off of the stage at one point as he tried, once again, to demystify his vision for how businesses must look to make transparent the complexities of network and data interoperation. I’ve made the keynote available as an MP3 that can be downloaded. Or, if you’re already subscribed to ZDNet’s IT Matters series of audio podcasts, it will show up on your system or MP3 player automatically (see ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in). Respectively, Chambers carved the 1980s and 1990s up into periods of time where productivity gains were extracted from the automation of assembly lines and transactions but said that those productivity gains pale in comparison to the those that can be had by the companies that figure out how to grease the wheels of interaction. Using his own company as an example of the type of enterprise that’s living on the leading edge of productivity, Chambers said:
We are the most productive company in the industry in terms of systems across multiple products and probably three times the productivity of our peers. But most of our productivity came through transactions: the ability to do an automatic order for product online ten years ago was 90 percent. The ability for most of our service calls to be handled over the Internet, the ability, if you wanted, to change benefits to do it over the Internet, our hiring process automated on transactions over the Internet. And yet, interactions -- the ability to get five or six of my engineering groups to work together on products that we’ll use up here as an example that are not only security-tied together but routing and switching and storing is tied together with common requirements and manageability from the very beginning -- requires a different level of interactivity. If you take that down to our supply chain, not designing for the products that are available today but the products that are available two to three years out and the ability to align that with manufacturing in terms of their approach--tat’s where the productivity of the future will come. I don’t think you’ve seen anything yet in terms of what productivity offers. But it’s harder to do the interaction part than it is the transaction part.
Putting a more tangible face on the problem (as well as providing a prescription for a solution), Chambers zeroed in on the rising cost of healthcare as one of the biggest problems facing the world, dissected the problem, and talked about how increased productivity through streamlined interactions between patients, pharmacists, doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies can not only drive significant cost out of healthcare, but can also save lives by avoiding easily preventable situations like the one where a patient ends up taking a lethal combination of medications because the doctors prescribing them and the pharmacies selling them didn't have access to a centralized "e-medical record." Getting to that promised land, says Chambers, requires an unprecedented level of interoperability among the plethora of gear and databases that deliver the data to the endpoints (ie: doctors or pharmacists) where they need it, when they need it. The goal is to fully virtualize the infrastructure right up to the "curb" where the end points -- be they telephones working through an interactive voice response system, computers working through a typical form, or wireless PDAs running off a browser -- can have universal realtime access to live data.
Not surprisingly, Chambers pitched Cisco as a one-stop shop infrastructure provider to get those sorts of interactions working smoothly. To make one-stop shopping easier, Chambers talked about how Cisco is moving quickly to take the features that it traditionally offered in separate pieces of equipment on a per networking application basis (eg: VPN, switching, routing) and build those features into modules that, in blade-like fashion, fit into a single chassis where the modules share power supplies and all of it is centrally managed with Cisco's software. (See the very blade-like Cisco Catalyst 6509 chassis with modules in the photo below.) Chambers cited security as one of the top concerns he hears about when he heads into the field to meet with CIOs. He talked about how difficult it is to get a view of the many facets and layers of security that must work across an entire infrastructure, much less get them to interoperate. To wit, as a justification for why Cisco makes sense as a solution provider for companies that don't have the headaches of making security work across multiple infrastructures, he demonstrated how Cisco has so far been able to do it (see Cisco device to unite security functions).
For a write up of how, as a one man show, I pulled together and published this multimedia coverage (text, photos, and audio) within a couple of hours of the keynote ending, see Chambers keynote podcast: How I did it.