Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins Sees Evolution Of The Channel As Intent-Based Networking Takes Hold


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Cisco Systems Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins is in the midst of transforming the legacy networking behemoth into an open, software-focused power player, and he likes what that means for channel partners.

"The thing I particularly like about the current transition around opening up programmability of our technology is it gives partners the ability to actually create unique – their own proprietary – IP," Robbins told CRN during the Cisco Live conference in Orlando, Fla. "That gives them the capability to add value not only to the customer, but also to create a competitive advantage for them and not get into discussions all around pricing and things we all face in the marketplace."

"Giving [partners] the ability to build their own intellectual property on top of our platforms is a huge difference," Robbins said. "We have partners who have acquired, and/or built development teams that have built some of the early apps, and it really is impressive."

RelatedCisco CEO Robbins On The Channel's Place In An Open, Developer-Oriented Cisco, And Advancing 'Something Hugely Different Than Anything We've Ever Done Before'

Robbins and his leadership team have this week brought new clarity to Cisco's year-old intent-based networking strategy. DNA Center, the control and management dashboard for intent-based networking, is becoming an open platform, allowing partners to dig into APIs and develop applications for customers.

Cisco is also opening DevNet ecosystem exchange and DevNet code exchange. The exchanges will provide validated code to channel partners and others to use when developing applications on the DNA Center Platform.

The programmability push comes as Cisco reaches 5,800 customers for its subscription-based Catalyst 9000 switch, the foundation of its intent-based networking strategy.

Customers have recognized the value of an automated, programmable network, but it's going to be up to partners to make it a reality, Robbins said.

"While the end-state is incredibly valuable for our customers, getting there requires some planning and some new capabilities," Robbins said. "When you talk about automating the configuration and provisioning of the network as opposed to going into command line, there's a whole set of skills and capabilities that need to be present. Our partners can provide those capabilities to help our customers build to a place where they can do it."

Mike Trojecki, vice president of IoT and analytics at Logicalis, a New York, N.Y., a solution provider that works with Cisco, said the channel is a driving force in customers' transition to intent-based, automated networks and Cisco is the only vendor that can offer an end-to-end solution.

"With Cisco, it's end-to-end," Trojecki said. "It's the entire network. [Competitors] can claim certain things about application performance, but they can't control it all the way through to the end user, to the edge. With processing data at the edge, and using the network more efficiently, they're not able to do that. Cisco is the clear leader in the space."

That end-to-end capability, Trojecki said, allows Cisco intent-based networking, through partners, to take much of the labor-intensive manual processes out of customers' networks.

"If you can automate the network and take some of the complexity out of these big, massive networks, it lets [customers] focus on the business, the business problems and lets people like us manage it," Trojecki said. "People like us can take care of keeping it up and running, and with our consultants and engineers, align back to what your business goals are. That's the key. That's where we're driving to, the consulting side of it."

For Logicalis, that means driving growth while balancing a legacy networking business with a software-focused intent-based networking business, Trojecki said.

"Most of our legacy business is route/switch, and it'll probably stay that way for a little while, but it'll go to an annuity stream rather than a capex, upfront cost," Trojecki said. "For us, we need to be able to monetize that and help our customers transition to that. That means helping them understand what they're paying for carriers, helping them understand the hardware piece of it, helping them understand the software and trying to bring that into as much operational cost as possible. That will let them focus on other areas of their business."

Still, while intent-based networking is on course to be "everywhere," Trojecki said, some customers are resistant to the change, and it takes a persistent partner to convince them to make the leap.

"You don't want to be wasting precious resources managing all this stuff," Trojecki said. "You want the network to be aware, you want it to be application-focused. It doesn’t matter if you're low end of commercial or high-end of enterprise, it plays across the entire spectrum. If you have to have a person, and you're spending money on a person who's probably a $125,000-a-year resource to do that, your competitors, once they move to Cisco and focus on intent-based networking, you're going to be left behind. There are a lot of companies that are not going to exist because they won't make the transition forward."

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