Cisco Live lives it up at 25

From brutal industry consolidation to Lenny Kravitz

SAN FRANCISCO: It started with a sobering declaration and ended with what for some was an inebriating party.

So went the week of Cisco Live, the 25th anniversary of the annual conference of Cisco customers from around the world. And Cisco did the milestone birthday justice, with keynotes and conference sessions hammering home the determined message that Cisco and its customers will lead the march to "Fast IT," and a stadium appreciation party rocked by Lenny Kravitz and Imagine Dragons.

Before the fun though, a chilling forecast from CEO John Chambers: Some of the leading IT companies in existence now won't be in five years. Chambers predicted a "brutal" industry consolidation that will leave only two to three of the top five IT titans standing.

"I've seen this movie before," Chambers said. "They will have missed market transitions."  

+MORE ON NETWORK WORLD: Ex-Cisco CEO reflects, looks ahead on 25 years of Networkers +

And that was during the opening keynote! Two market transitions Cisco's intent on not missing are the Internet of Things and Fast IT, its term for InterCloud networking based on its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) technology.

InterCloud is how Cisco describes moving workloads between different cloud providers in private, managed, hosted, hybrid and public cloud deployments, with common policy and mobility across all deployment models. The company's ACI technology, founded on its Nexus 9000 switching hardware and Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), is how Cisco proposes building an InterCloud.

ACI is also Cisco's entry into the software-defined networking market, which has been viewed as a Cisco disruptor. Chambers left no doubt about Cisco's intentions with SDN.

"We will be the best implementer of SDN in the world," he said in his same keynote address. "It will not only benefit Cisco. We will lead this industry."

On day two, company President Rob Lloyd's keynote went deep into the components of Fast IT and InterCloud. It was clear the sales and development chief was leading this particular charge into hybrid clouds, where Cisco can leverage its installed base of private clouds needing connectivity to any provider.

Lloyd announced that longtime partner Dimension Data and its parent, NTT, joined Cisco's InterCloud ecosystem. And later that day in a roundtable session with reporters, Lloyd invited all to join.

"If they embrace (InterCloud) constructs, we will expand the ecosystem and it could include any of the companies we think of today as major cloud providers," Lloyd said when actually responding to a question on whether buying an established cloud provider, like the rumored target Rackspace, would benefit InterCloud.

Chambers was a bit more direct on the specific prospect: "That's a market that is very, very price sensitive; that's taking on the big giants in Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, etc. So those are the types of scenarios we look at as a partnership opportunity."

Chambers also expanded on the reasons behind his letter to President Obama after pictures appeared of an alleged alteration of Cisco equipment by the NSA for surveillance purposes.

"This is so important to our industry and the future of the Internet that we've got to change," Chambers said. "It isn't so important to how we got to where we are now; it's what we must change as we go forward."

Also on Day Two of its conference, Cisco gave an overview on how it spots and seeds market transitions in the making. It's a crowdsourcing effort with 80 technology scouts that identify and submit what they think the next big things are, says Joel Bion, senior vice president of Cisco Research and Advanced Development. Cisco then takes the top 10 trends to drive investments from its $2 billion Innovation Fund.

One of those next big things is the Internet of Things/Everything and Day Three of Cisco Live was dedicated to it. Cisco rolled out a half-dozen public and private sector customers of IP-enabled city, building and business management systems and sensors that they said cut their costs and increased their revenue.

A networked building HVAC system let a 40-year-old Houston high-rise cut energy consumption in half over four years, from $4.3 million to $2.1 million, in 2009-2013. An Anheuser-Busch distributor in Texas installed Cisco VoIP, digital media systems and TelePresence in new distribution center to increase efficiency. The IP TV cameras lowered insurance costs, and sensors on beer trucks assist in inventory management.

And Bank of America is expanding an 85-branch TelePresence IoT pilot to 500 branch offices. It has 5,000 such offices around the U.S. and the trial is intended to bring the banking center representative to the consumer. In the face of online banking, 85% of Bank of America's products are still sold through these 5,000 branches, said Tyler Johnson, senior vice president of ATM/kiosk strategy and innovation.

To secure the Internet of Things, Cisco ended the day with the rollout of advanced malware protection (AMP) appliances for both on-premises and off-premises malware blocking. Cisco also announced its intention to acquire ThreatGRID, another malware prevention company to complement Cisco's AMP lineup.

Those announcements ended the day. But the day didn't end. It was time to celebrate 25 years of Cisco Live and Networkers with silly birthday cakes hats at AT&T Park. It was time for thousands of Cisco customers and partners to embark on the next 25 years after ringing out the last.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 28 years, 23 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

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