Cisco is ready for the AI era: Robbins

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins at Cisco Live 2024

LAS VEGAS—It’s rare for a technology conference to occur in 2023 or 2024, but Chuck Robbins’ Cisco Live keynote presentation here required four slides for the letters “AI” to appear.

“That’s pretty good,” the Cisco CEO quipped.

But once he started, to little surprise, Robbins dedicated much of his presentation to the technology topic du jour, making his case for Cisco uniquely positioned to help customers build for, embrace, and get the most out of their investments in artificial intelligence. 

And Robbins is sure there will be spending. He knows because when he talks to his fellow CEOs, questions about AI have replaced the once-ubiquitous questions about the cloud. Chief executives, he said, fear that if they don’t move quickly on AI, they won’t even have a chance to see the current or emerging competitors who do and take them out. Early in the cloud era, he noted, CEOs put a lot of pressure on IT management to get into the cloud quickly. He warned the IT pros in attendance on Tuesday.

“I think AI is going to be that [pressure] on steroids,” Robbins said. “They don’t know what the competition might do with AI, which will put them at a competitive disadvantage, so they must move fast. The pressure you all are going to face is going to be really high.”

Of course, that likely means that channel partners will feel similar pressure from their clients, but with that pressure comes a great deal of opportunity.

While he made many comparisons between the dawning AI era and the early days of the cloud era more than a decade ago, there are some glaring differences. Cisco, Robbins said, is much more ready for this particular transition.

“In the cloud era, we perhaps weren’t as prepared as we should have been,” he admitted. “Today, as this AI era begins, we’re ready to help you going forward.”

With that kind of pledge, there’s no surprise that AI figures prominently in the technology innovation the company is showing off at Live, from its new HyperFabric approach to converged infrastructure for the AI data centre to AI assistants coming together in every major Cisco product line, to AI-enabling services as customers pursue their own strategies, Robbins presented Cisco as a natural partner to help its customers get the most out of their AI spend.

Robbins said Cisco would provide infrastructure for AI, security for AI, and AI-enabled security, all within a “responsible AI” framework, which the company has already rolled out to guide its approach. 

“We want to help AI work for you and make AI work for us, and we want to get there in a safe, responsible way and help you get the most value out of the data in your organization,” Robbins said.

While he expects the changes driven by AI to keep accelerating, he urged customers to consider their organization’s “purpose and culture” as guiding lights for pursuing their AI strategies.

“We’ll continue to operate against a responsible AI framework,” he said. “I think the purpose and the culture of your organization will determine how you handle AI as well.”

Robert Dutt

Robert Dutt is the founder and head blogger at ChannelBuzz.ca. He has been covering the Canadian solution provider channel community for a variety of publications and Web sites since 1997. 

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