Splunk channel integration plans, AI era vs. Cloud era, and other Cisco Live notes

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins answers an analyst’s question at Cisco Live 2024 as EVP Liz Centoni looks on.

LAS VEGAS — An audience for press and industry analysts with top executives is a tradition at major Cisco events like this week’s Cisco Live here and its annual Partner Conference, providing those of us who keep an eye on the company and the broader industry a chance to pick the brains of CEO Chuck Robbins and his top lieutenants.

While some of the musings from this session may be hard to categorize into broader coverage of an event like Live, they nevertheless provide some great insights that Cisco partners may benefit from, or even enjoy, reading about.

Here are a few things that caught my ear in this year’s Cisco Live roundtable with Robbins et al.

Integrating the Splunk channel

This is the first Cisco Live since the company’s purchase of Splunk closed back in March of this year, and there’s lots of talk about how Splunk will fit in everywhere, from security to application observability. But what about the channel?

Splunk’s pre-merger CEO Gary Steele, now Cisco’s president of go-to-market, was on the panel and said that the company would be “super thoughtful” in integrating the program’s channels, likely because the two companies’ partner bases are significantly different. 

“We want to bring the programs together at a sane and manageable pace,” Steele said.

But he stressed the company was not going slow on getting Splunk deep in the Cisco channel. He said he sees a lot of value and sales growth in bringing Splunk to the big tent of Cisco partners and highlighted the ability for partners to use Splunk’s ability to monitor the network and applications as a way for Cisco partners to “drive deep services.”

“It’s a perfect product for the channel, and the priority is to drive it broadly across the Cisco channel,” Steele said. “I’m excited that while we share some partners, there’s so much more opportunity [for Splunk technology] within the Cisco community.”

At the same time, Steele said he was interested in bringing Splunk’s community of “smaller, more boutique” partners and getting them excited about the breadth of solutions Cisco offers.

Partners would be wise to monitor Steele’s direction. In his new role as president of go-to-market, the partner organization reports to him.

Cisco in the AI era vs. Cisco in the cloud era

Comparisons between “the AI era” we have now entered and “the cloud era” that dominated the decade leading up to 2022 in the industry abound, if for no other reason than AI talk has officially eaten the cloud’s lunch in terms of the thing every vendor wants to talk about at any event they host.

So, how does Robbins see the difference between the two?

For starters, Robbins said, Cisco is in a much better position much earlier in this new era than it was in the era that preceded it. While Cisco called attention to its role as a networking giant in creating the “plumbing for the cloud” and had its Intercloud strategy, which seemed to change frequently and was ultimately shuffled out of the spotlight reasonably quickly, the company never participated in cloud-specific infrastructure. In the early years, there wasn’t much of a story regarding security in the cloud.

“This time, it’s the complete opposite,” Robbins said. “We have all of that and more.”

Security of AI and security via AI are not only talking points this week at Live but are backed up with announcements and in-market technologies, and on the infrastructure side, the company announced partnerships with Nvidia and Vast Storage to do AI-specific data centre hardware stacks, harkening back to its partner-heavy strategy around converged infrastructure with VCE and FlexPod in years gone by.

Partners should also watch for Cisco to be busy on the edge regarding AI. Robbins said that the industry has been “talking about the edge for a very long time,” but he thinks the need for customers to process their data closer to where it resides will require “a full stack” of CPU, GPU, storage, and connectivity closer to the edge, citing it as an opportunity even carriers are likely to embrace.

Splunk needs to get its hooks into networking

Yes, Cisco is now an enterprise software company, but much of that software and much of its hardware still point to the fact that, at its heart, Cisco is a networking company. And along with getting access to the Cisco channel, Steele said there’s an ample opportunity in Splunk to get the kind of deep insight into what’s going on in a network that Cisco naturally has as a networking gear provider that bakes in a lot of telemetry.

“Splunk was missing that depth and detail all the way through the network, so I’m excited about our ability to enrich our perspective with that network data and ThousandEyes data,” Steele said. “It underpins everything we’re doing in capturing that data, enriching Splunk, and creating great outcomes for our customers.”

Jonathan Davidson, executive vice president and general manager of networking at Cisco, said that bringing Splunk into its networking mix is a big part of what Cisco is calling Digital Experience Assurance, a significant company-wide effort to provide customers greater insight and detail on their whole connectivity picture, including both the network and assets they own and the network and applications they consume via cloud services. He said in that field, Splunk would “drive amazing outcomes for our customers,” echoing Steele.

Centoni’s new role

Liz Centoni has been a top member of the leadership team since early in the Robbins era at Cisco, but this year’s Live is her first big company show in her new role as the company’s Chief Customer Experience Officer, which puts her atop its customer experience organization. 

As software and subscriptions have become a bigger part of Cisco’s model during the Robbins years, it has become increasingly important that customers get the most out of their purchases and use as many capabilities of their products as possible. Customer Experience has been a major drive for the company for years, but it’s seen several changes in leadership in recent years. Will the arrival of leadership team stalwart Centoni atop the CX group provide stability?

Robbins praised Centoni for his “history of execution” with Cisco and her role in “fixing a lot of stuff for us over the year,” citing her ability to turn around Cisco’s IOT controls and computing businesses from money-losers to innovation drivers. He said giving her control of CX gives her “the opportunity to scale a business.” He said she’s been vital in the company’s AI strategy for years, giving her wisdom that will be important as the company looks to add services around AI.

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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