Cisco Grows Cloud, Software Efforts

The company at its Cisco Live event introduced cloud-based management of on-premises infrastructure and new Cisco ONE software licensing.

cloud computing

Cisco Systems, long known for its hardware-based networking business, is continuing its pivot to software and the cloud with several initiatives announced this week at its user conference.

The company is expanding the capabilities of the Meraki cloud-based WiFi management technology it inherited when it bought the company for $1.2 billion in 2012 to cover a broad range of on-premises IT infrastructure, including networking gear, security hardware and mobile devices.

At the same time, at its Cisco Live 2015 event in Milan, Italy, Cisco announced a new licensing strategy for its Cisco ONE (Open Network Environment) software that essentially takes what had been hundreds of applications that had been available in an a la carte fashion—and priced individually—and brings them together into three software suites available through perpetual, subscription-based or enterprise licenses.

In addition, the applications to this point had been specific to particular hardware. However, through the new initiative, Cisco is offering that as platform-independent, according to John Brigden, senior vice president of software strategy and operations at Cisco.

Both efforts are part of a larger push by Cisco to adapt to a data center IT environment that is quickly shifting from hardware-based solutions to software and the cloud. CEO John Chambers and other executives have talked about Cisco's strategy to move away from being a networking box maker to being a more complete enterprise IT solutions and services provider.

Cisco, like many other established tech players, is dealing with such new trends as software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV), mobile computing, big data and the Internet of things (IoT), most of which put an increasingly higher premium on software and the cloud. Company executives have said that Cisco plays a foundational role in many of these trends. That includes the company's Intercloud strategy for linking multiple public, private and hybrid clouds.

The company is making headway, according to officials, who say that Cisco is now the world's third-largest software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider and fifth-largest software vendor.

Cisco bought Meraki to help fill a need to address cloud-based WAN technology, WiFi and mobile device management (MDM) for small and midsize businesses. Now the company wants to leverage the technology it's developed over the past two-plus years to expand the cloud-based management throughout the IT stack, creating an offering called Cloud Managed IT.

"Customers are becoming digital businesses," Rod Soderbery, senior vice president of enterprise products and solutions for Cisco, said during a Web conference with journalists before the new offerings were announced.

Companies are becoming less interested in the complexity and expense of building and maintaining their own on-premises infrastructures, opting instead to shift that responsibility elsewhere. By expanding Meraki's focus from the wireless world to the entire IT infrastructure, customers can leverage the cloud for managing all of their on-premises systems, Soderbery said.

In its Cloud Managed IT offering, Cisco includes networking infrastructure—including switching, WiFi and the WAN—security, such as next-generation firewall, intrusion detection and VPN, including technology from its $2.7 billion acquisition of Sourcefire in 2013; and mobile device management.

"With Cloud Managed IT, your business can go faster," Soderbery said. "You can do things with technology that you couldn't before."

The new licensing model for Cisco ONE software is designed to enable businesses to more easily get the software they need and to ensure they can get the software without having to bring in new hardware.

"We're trying to move from a technology focus to a users focus," Brigden said, noting the importance of separating the software from the hardware. Cisco made a lot of money attaching its software to its hardware offerings. "We've been a software business for a while, but we made the software look like hardware. We sold the software in a box, and when the box wore out, you had to buy all of it again."

Through Cisco ONE Software, businesses can get the applications they need and deploy them however they want—on-premises, in the cloud or in a hybrid fashion, he said.

The software offerings come in three domains—Foundation (core networking, security and systems software, including Application Centric Infrastructure, or ACI, offerings); Advanced Application (such as data center fabric, WAN collaboration and an enterprise cloud suite); and Advanced Security (threat defense for data centers and the WAN and identify services for access).

Cisco also is introducing the Cisco ONE Enterprise Cloud Suite, which is designed to give businesses a choice of software offerings for their infrastructure to build out hybrid clouds that officials said offer the simplicity of public clouds and automation of private clouds.