Cisco Live 2014: It’s the End of the Collaborative World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)

Brad Shimmin
Brad Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • Cisco has a lot of explaining to do at this year’s Cisco Live, stemming from its recent, apparent abandonment of Cisco WebEx Social.
  •  With a careful focus on programmability for the network, the data center and its own applications, however, Cisco can use this opportunity to leap forward rather than justify the past.

Once again, it is time for IT professionals and service providers from around the world to convene and converge upon a city of Cisco’s choosing for the company’s annual über-user conference, Cisco Live. This time around, the venue is San Francisco, a stark contrast in terms of weather and populous to last year’s somewhat warmer and more rural destination of Orlando, Florida. Still, I’m sure the heat, symbolically anyway, will remain in full effect for Cisco as the networking giant faces its customer constituency for the first time since Cisco announced its surprising joint venture with enterprise social networking (ESN) darling Jive Software.

Historically, Cisco has happily found itself on the leading edge of market trends, exploring newfound business opportunities (adjacencies, as Cisco likes to call them) such as unified communications and high-definition video conferencing. However, when it comes to broader collaborative opportunities such as ESN, mobile devices and, of course, e-mail, Cisco has found itself in the awkward position of trailing the progression of those markets, in some instances misjudging them altogether. Moreover, with its recent Jive partnership, the company has correspondingly and silently signaled the eventual end of its internally developed ESN effort, Cisco WebEx Social. That can’t be good.

Then again, what if this is just the sort of thing Cisco needs? Why reinvent the wheel, when you can invent a flying, fusion-powered DeLorean (just as an example)? Perhaps this gives Cisco more room to focus on what it does best: connect things. More than that, perhaps it could allow the company to better equip its not-inconsequential partner ecosystem with the tools and opportunities needed to build the next-generation data center for both enterprise customers and service providers alike. We’re talking about a programmable data center, where data flows freely within a vast Internet of Things (IoT), pooling for a moment to reveal a theretofore hidden, financially beneficial truth. We’re talking about a data center network that understands and can support and protect an ever-changing plethora of mobile devices. And while we’re at it, why not contemplate a data center where the public and private cloud blend seamlessly and transparently, allowing enterprises to build for today while bracing for the future? Tune in during the week to hear about Cisco’s ‘InterCloud’ for more on that vision.

I know those very subjects are on the collective mind of Cisco employees, and I fully anticipate and hope for a great deal of energy expended by Cisco, its customers and its partners upon those opportunities at this week’s show in the delicate climes of San Francisco. If Cisco can demonstrate at the show an interest in and an actionable plan to capture the hearts of software developers, particularly those building upon the company’s unified communications portfolio, all of the above mentioned strife will surely melt away. Why developers? I truly believe that these players are the best chance Cisco has of stoking the fires that will need to rage within the company’s long sought-after but still mostly mythical idea of a business-ready data center. The question will be whether Cisco and its partner ecosystem can push into this realm of business software, or if the vendor will retreat further into pure hardware.

My hope is for software, and for that reason, I’m truly heartened to see Cisco placing an emphasis on developers at the show, opening up a dedicated area (the Cisco DevNet Zone for $49.00) where developers can play with key SDKs and APIs for a pretty wide swath of Cisco technologies covering IoT, software-defined networking (SDN), cloud, mobility and security. I, for one, am definitely going to look into entering the Cisco DevNet Zone during my short sojourn at Cisco Live this week.

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