Cisco seeks partner help on security, cloud strategy, software

Ruba Borno, vice president of growth initiatives at Cisco

LAS VEGAS — Ruba Borno has an important assignment at Cisco, managing the company’s growth initiatives. And she’s looking for some help from partners to help realize those growth opportunities, both for Cisco and for themselves.
In a roundtable with international press at the company’s Cisco Live event here this week, Borno, who serves as both vice president of growth initiatives and chief of staff for CEO Chuck Robbins, had three areas where she said she’d like to see partners step up and help themselves and Cisco grow — security, cloud strategy, and software.
None of the three should be considered terribly surprising, given that they encompass some of the most important parts of the opportunities Cisco sees for growth, and its mantra and raison d’etre,
In Borno’s opinion, security is the clear number one with a bullet in terms of areas where customers need more help from a solution provider. Security, of course, has been a major focus of Cisco in recent years, both as products on top of the network and increasingly as the underpinnings and core role of the network itself. But as Borno points out, most customers are far from living in an all-Cisco security world, and are unlikely to be living in such a world for some time. That means there’s still a great deal of complexity to be managed, and that’s where partners come in.
“It’s an extremely fragmented market. A lot of our customers have 50 security vendors but don’t feel any more secure,” Borno said. That opens the door to partners who can help navigate those swirling waters with advisory services and help determine the best path forward.
“Those who are able to do that the best will be solving a dire customer need,” Borno said.
Similarly, Borno’s second opportunity is also around consultancy and advisory. Customers, she said, need partners who are able to help with cloud strategy, particularly around how quickly to migrate to cloud, which workloads for which types of cloud, the “geo-resiliency” of their cloud strategy in many cases, and, of course, the security strategy that underlies that cloud strategy.
Cisco has not been shy about its aspirations to ramp up its software business, both in new areas and in making its core software business much more software-centric. In fact, one of the key metrics the vendor has become quite proud of sharing is how much of its revenue it has converted from the straight-up hardware or service sales to a subscription or recurring revenue basis. That figure is still a relatively small part of Cisco’s overall revenues, but is growing very rapidly.
“We have doubled the number in terms of recurring revenues as a portion of our business every quarter,” Borno said.
So it’s probably not a surprise that another area Borno would like to see partners focus for their own future is on software. But not just Cisco’s software. Borno would like to see partners start building their own more often. Preferably on top of Cisco’s software and platforms. The company’s DNA Center — a new management and control interface for enterprise network that makes management of the core network similar to what many partners have come to know from its Meraki cloud-managed WiFi product — provides an opportunity for partners to do just that.
“With DNA Center, not only do we deliver apps, but our partners can write apps, create combinations of apps for verticals, and then monetize. There’s a strong call to action for them,” she said.
Borno said that education and enablement around this new opportunity will be part of a “massive training campaign” around its recently launched intent-based networking program. And while that’s a starting point for new things Cisco will look for partners to do with its new software-centric networks and modernized, API-riddled version of its IOS network operating systems, it is by no means the end. After all, part of the fun of being software-based is that software can be more easily updated.
“We haven’t thought of everything we’re going to do with the network over time, but we now at least have a network that can receive the update” as Cisco, partners, and even customers define new opportunities and new applications, Borno said.
And in the future, those new applications may not even necessarily be running exclusively on Cisco gear. The company has stressed that because of software, much of the functionality introduced in the intent-based networking launch will be available to customers with previous-generation Cisco gear. Although some functionality will be linked to hardware — for example, the intent-based networking feature of detecting malware in encrypted network traffic without decrypting it is dependent on the hardware of its newest Nexus switches — that which is not hardware-linked may even find its way onto rivals’ networking gear over time.
“We have use cases with our software running on [other vendors’] hardware, and we’re working to deliver that,” Borno said.