How Cisco Systems Has Rewired Itself for the Cloud Era

eWEEK NEWS ANALYSIS: The realignment of Cisco’s technology leadership team aligns it with future trends.

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Last week Cisco Systems surprised the IT networking industry when it announced a restructuring of its technology leadership team. The lead story was the departure of its executive vice president and general manager of networking and security, David Goeckeler, who is now the new CEO of Western Digital. 

I’ve been asked if this move was forced by Cisco, and I believe this was just a great opportunity for Goeckeler. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Goeckeler on many occasions, and he is one of the people responsible for the turnaround in Cisco networking. Western Digital is at an inflection point in its own history as data growth continues to explode, so the appointment of the former Cisco EVP is well-timed. Along with the departure of Goeckeler, Cisco’s CEO, Chuck Robbins, made a number of other changes to its technology leadership team that I’ll cover later.

Market Transitions Have Always Defined Cisco’s Strategy

Why all the changes? I believe Cisco is aligning itself for the future of IT. “Market transitions wait for no one” is a quote made famous by Cisco’s longtime former CEO, John Chambers, in 2010. The ability to change itself is something that Cisco has always done well, but it seems to have stepped up these capabilities under Robbins. Since Robbins took the reins as CEO in July 2015, the company has moved faster than ever in its history, often making some surprising moves.

The reason that the changes were surprising is that Cisco appears to have righted its ship and is powering full steam ahead. Despite a recent macro-induced drop in the stock price, the company is in the best position it’s been in for the past couple of decades. The new Catalyst products are flying off the shelf, its SD-WAN portfolio is taking hold and the collaboration business has rebounded. With all this success, why change?

Cisco Leadership Is Now Aligned With AI, Cloud and 5G

The changes are part of catching market transitions at the right time. The market is shifting, and there are a number of trends, such as 5G and artificial intelligence, that are impacting the company’s technology decisions. The new leadership structure at Cisco enables it to capture this shift and align itself better with cloud culture while delivering a portfolio that is simple to operate but sophisticated and secure. The new product structure and leadership includes:

Enterprise Networking and Cloud is led by SVP and GM Todd Nightingale (replaces Goeckeler). Reporting into Nightingale are:

  • Intent-based networking, led by Scott Harrell
  • Meraki, led by Chris Stori (replaces Nightingale)
  • Cloud, led in the interim by Liz Centoni
  • Compute and IoT, also temporarily led by Liz Centoni
  • Security and applications group, led by a leader to be named later.

Reporting to that "future person" will be:

  • Security, led by current SVP and GM Gee Rittenhouse
  • Collaboration, now run by SVP and GM Sri Srinivasan, who replaces Amy Chang
  • AppD will continue to be led by SVP and GM Danny Winokur
  • Mass-scale infrastructure, run by existing SVP and GM Jonathan Davidson
  • Emerging Technologies and Incubation, headed up by SVP Liz Centoni
  • Core hardware platforms is now run by SVP Eyal Dagan.

Some Perspective

A few notes on these changes: The most notable leadership change that demonstrates Cisco’s alignment with the future is the appointment of Nightingale as the head of cloud and networking. Nightingale came into Cisco as the leader of the Meraki and has held that post since 2012. Meraki is a purely cloud-managed solution and is dead simple to deploy. By putting all of cloud and networking under him, I expect to see some of that “Meraki Magic” brought into the other products.

Also, Chang’s departure was for personal reasons but is well-timed. Chang came in through the Accompany acquisition and built a leadership team that has strong AI skills. Chang set the vision and now turns the reins over to Srinivasan, who will put the group into execution mode. He joined Cisco from Microsoft, where he was CTO of the Dynamics group and was an operations machine.

The creation of the “mass-scale infrastructure” group shows that Cisco understands there’s a blurring of the lines between service provider, cloud and large enterprise networks. Historically, products like the recently released Cisco 8000 routers would have fallen into the “service provider” bucket but now will meet the needs of a broader audience.

I also believe the newly formed Emerging Technologies and Incubation group will help drive faster innovation. Cisco hasn’t had a group dedicated to innovation since Marthin De Beer headed up a group called Emerging Technologies. During his tenure, Cisco developed a number of cool products, including its market-defining immersive TelePresence products. I would expect Centoni to drive faster and more consistent innovation inside Cisco.

Given the run Cisco has been on during the past couple of years, the restructuring of its product leadership may have seemed oddly timed. In actuality, the willingness to do this ahead of any weakness should help Cisco stay ahead of the curve.

Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.