Cisco Has to Earn Market Leadership, CTO Says

Cisco Chief Technology Officer Padmasree Warrior struck a humble note in a keynote address at the Cisco Live user conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, saying Cisco needs a broad architecture and services to become a true market leader.

"Having a great portfolio of products gets a seat at the table to talk to our customers," Warrior said. "Once we do that, then they expect us to start bringing groups of products together, build them and test them so they work together, and then add technical services on top of that."

Cisco has been talking for years about the need to combine technology architecture with a business architecture, but Warrior presented this mission as one Cisco has just begun with its UCS (Unified Computing System) architecture. That system, announced in March, combines networking and storage with computing, represented by the company's long-anticipated blade server platform. UCS is just a foundation on which to eventually build private clouds, she said.

Some observers see UCS as an attempt to take on Cisco partners, including Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Warrior talked as if that is the eventual goal.

"Once we have the architecture leadership, we then become the de facto standard in the industry and we become a platform leader," Warrior said. However, interoperability with other vendors' products is part of that leadership, she said.

Enterprise IT departments are evolving from data center consolidation to unified computing and eventually to cloud computing, Warrior said. Cisco is uniquely positioned for cloud leadership because the network is the only place to solve the major barriers to cloud computing, which are security, guaranteed performance and interoperability, she said.

Cisco is looking beyond just cloud computing to "intercloud" networking, which combines resources internal and external for an organization, Warrior said.

During the keynote, Warrior and an assistant demonstrated carrying out a series of tasks in a UCS environment. Using predesigned templates with simple pull-down menus, they provisioned new storage and server resources, moved the virtual servers to another physical data center, and set up virtual desktops for employees who would be forced out of their homes by a hypothetical disaster. The demonstration tapped into systems from EMC and VMware, both of which were prominent partners in the introduction of UCS.

Warrior's vision of gradual migration to clouds seemed to match that of Cisco Live attendees.

Widespread use of cloud computing may well be 10 years away, said Leo Dragon, supervisor of communications operations at PPL Services, a power company in Allentown, Pennsylvania. And for security and regulatory reasons alone, cloud computing will need to stay within the enterprise for many years to come, he said. But Cisco's product portfolio did attract PPL, which is now migrating from a Nortel to a Cisco infrastructure, he said. Cisco is the market leader for a reason, Dragon said.

Most enterprises still want to keep their resources in-house where they can control them, according to Don Doyle, a pre-sales technical consultant at Logicalis Integration Solutions. Logicalis is a channel partner of Cisco as well as HP, IBM and other vendors. Most of Doyle's customers are still at the stage of consolidating their data centers and adopting virtualization in order to save money and use their server resources more efficiently. They don't yet trust public clouds with their data and in some cases aren't allowed to use them, as in health care, he said.

Cisco's UCS blade servers stand out from other high-end enterprise systems because they have much larger memory and networking capacity, said Doyle, who has already sold some UCS systems. The platform also works well with VMware, which most of his customers are choosing for virtualization, Doyle said.

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