Five questions: Cisco CIO Rebecca Jacoby talks data centers, apps, collaboration

Cisco CIO Rebecca Jacoby will launch the company's latest data center in Texas. We caught up with Jacoby to talk about data centers, collaboration and managing applications.

Cisco CIO Rebecca Jacoby will launch the company's latest data center in Texas. We caught up with Jacoby, who has been Cisco's chief information officer for 16 years, to talk about data centers, collaboration and managing applications.

Here's the recap:

What were your goals with the data center? Jacoby said that Cisco's new data centers revolved around delivering "the capacity to grow the business and rapidly respond to the ups and downs of the business," said Jacoby. In other words, Cisco is looking for the flexibility to provision computing power quickly and decommission as needed. Cisco's partners on the virtualized data centers were VMware, EMC and NetApp. Those vendors are already Cisco partners so file these data center launches in the eating your own dog food category.

Why are these data centers green? Jacoby said the Cisco delivered power more efficiently and focused on cheap cooling. The new data centers have a power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 1.35. That PUE isn't as good as Facebook's 1.07 PUE. The industry average is a PUE range of 1.5 to 1.6. When I pointed out Facebook's PUE, Jacoby said that "anything below 1.5 is reasonable." She added that PUE isn't the only metric for data center efficiency because other factors like resiliency factor into the equation.

Is Facebook's data center approach applicable elsewhere? Jacoby said that Facebook's data center is "a great PUE story," but the social networking giant's designs are built for scale up Web properties. Facebook's data centers wouldn't work as well for various enterprise deployments. "Facebook has some interesting ideas focused on a specific application," she explained. "The key is knowing what application a company is trying to get after (with data centers)." What's Cisco's applications strategy? Jacoby said that Cisco's new data centers will include about 1,300 applications---most of the company's entire software. Relative to other companies Cisco's size, 1,300 is a fairly lean number. Many large companies I talk with are trying to trim down to a 2,000 to 2,500 app level. "We have an ordered plan where we put together a migration and a decommissioning plan," said Jacoby. "It's even preferable to decommission and application than migrate it." Cisco's Texas data centers will have the apps that run the company. Other data centers focus on engineering and development applications.

How has Cisco's collaboration strategy worked out internally? I asked this question since CEO John Chambers called managing through social networking was a risk for the company. In addition, a few Wall Street analysts have said that Cisco's decision-making councils are one reason the company lost focus. Jacoby said that Cisco had a multi-year strategy to move to boards and councils via collaboration. "We're always making it more efficient," said Jacoby. "We have been looking at how to use social networking technology to make us more effective in every aspect of the business."

The collaboration effort started with wikis, blogs and Facebook-like directories and branched out to video. "We're interested in video as a knowledge platform," said Jacoby. "I can record a video and use it to create, store and disseminate knowledge." Collaboration is an important factor for the future to target younger workers and ensure the proper flow of communication, she said. "This is necessary as we move forward. It's how people communicate," added Jacoby. As for the challenges, Jacoby said Cisco has moved beyond the initial growing pains, but now has to open this collaboration up to partners and the larger Cisco ecosystem.

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