Cisco Live 2017: Key Takeaways from CEO Chuck Robbins' Keynote

Cisco says it has reinvented networking for the IoT age.

Cisco kicked off this year's Live conference with a keynote from its CEO Chuck Robbins, who walked attendees through recent and upcoming news announcements while laying out the company's vision for next-generation networks. Here's a look at the key takeaways from Robbins' talk.

The new networking realities: In 2016, the world hit an inflection point as the number of machine-to-machine network activations exceeded those of phones and tablets, Robbins said. Enterprises are already using billions of connected devices for new business models, preventive maintenance and other pursuits, and the pace by which more and more devices will be connected to the Internet is set to increase dramatically, he added.

Three things will define networks going forward: Scale, simplification and security, Robbins said. Of the last, he noted: "We all know what's in the press and as we add more and more things the threat surface expands. Once a month, something major happens. We have to ensure we're building security into everything we do."

Last week, announced major updates across its Digital Network Architecture product family. These include DNA Center, a management dashboard for all network functions; Software-Defined Access, which automatically segments network traffic through policy enforcement; and a machine learning platform for predictive analytics and business intelligence.

There's also new traffic analytics that can accurately detect threats in encrypted traffic more than 99 percent of the time, without needing to decrypt the data.

Robbins also discussed a new family of switches, the Catalyst 9000 line, which he called a "beautiful box." The switches include new custom-built ASICs and are fully programmable, allowing, for example, a hospital bringing on IoT devices carrying patient data to separate that traffic from desktop networks. It's also possible to run applications in containers or VMs directly on the boxes.

To that end, "what we believe is the network has to provide you the ability not only to connect but to deal with the data at the edge," Robbins said.

Seventy-five large companies are already conducting field trials with the new software and hardware, according to Robbins. The various aspects of the portfolio will become available over the next several months, Cisco said.

POV: Robbins kept the product pitches fairly short and free of bombast, which is always welcome. He also did a good job of speaking directly to the thousands of Cisco administrators and architects present at Mandalay Bay, highlighting the importance of their roles and responsibilites in the IoT age.

The multi-cloud reality: Cisco, like others, tried but failed to make inroads in the public cloud market and ultimately shuttered its Intercloud service in March. Thus it was not surprising that the cloud portion of Robbins' talk discussed Cisco's new strategy, where it will support multi-cloud management.

Cloud computing began as a quest for simplicity in enterprise IT but with companies buying into a proliferation of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS offerings now has become a problem of data control and security.

"This is a major challenge we have to solve," he said. "It's not going to the cloud, it's going to many, many clouds. And the network has a unique ability to help you navigate that by preserving your policy and your security."

POV: Constellation believes multi-cloud is the right direction for most customers. Cisco, however, is far from the only vendor trying to pivot into multi-cloud management and will have to find the right place in the market.

Apple, Cisco cozy up a bit more: Robbins invited a surprise guest onstage in the form of Apple CEO Tim Cook. Their conversation consisted mostly of generalites about the companies' partnership, which got a big boost two years ago with the announcement of an enterprise-oriented "fast lane" service for validating iOS devices on Cisco networking gear.

Cisco and Apple didn't have anything nearly as big to announce during Robbins' talk, but Cisco did unveil Security Connector, which takes functionality from its Umbrella and Clarity security products and combines it in one app. It provides features for incident investigation, blocking malicious sites and encrypting DNS requests, and can be used to manage iOS devices in conjunction with an mobile device management platform.

POV: While the fireworks weren't really there this year news-announcement-wise, Cook's appearance is some evidence the Cisco-Apple partnership has been a success. (Cook said as much, but neither he or Robbins talked numbers.) In any case, the deal always made sense for both companies on paper, with Apple gaining an inroad to enterprises through Cisco's channel and Cisco able to pitch its networking products as superior for iOS devices.

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