This week Cisco held its annual user conference, Cisco Live, in an all-digital format. Historically, Cisco Live events were regional as the company hosted a Cisco Live U.S., EMEA, Asia-Pacific and a few others. Because the event was in digital format, Cisco is able to host its first-ever truly global Cisco Live event and stream the sessions in local times.
This enables the company to deliver a single, consistent message to all of its regions simultaneously. The all-digital format will also draw a much bigger audience than the live events. Historically, Cisco Live U.S. would generate an audience of about 20,000 people. During his keynote, CEO Chuck Robbins revealed that Cisco Live 2021 would have an audience of about 100,000 people in more than 200 countries. Given the expanded scope of the event, one would expect Cisco to have some major announcements, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
One of the more interesting bits of news was the introduction of its Cisco Plus network-as-a-service (NaaS) offering. For years, there was only one way to purchase network equipment, and that was to pay for everything up front. A few years ago, Cisco introduced a software subscription model, where the hardware and software purchasing were decoupled. The customer would pay for the hardware and then the software via a subscription license.
Cisco introduces Network-as-a-Service
Now Cisco is shifting from a software model to a cloud one, where the customer pays a monthly or quarterly fee for the hardware and software. The major difference between Cisco’s NaaS and its previous software subscription is the customer does not own the infrastructure. The customer would pay for what they use and then increase their spend as they turn on new features or utilize the network more.
NaaS enables higher levels of agility
This shift brings a new level of agility to the network as businesses can pay for what they use and then add and remove as they need to. During his keynote, Cisco SVP and GM of Enterprise Networking and Cloud Todd Nightingale talked about the importance of digital agility when he said, “Digital agility is the most important IT superpower right now. It’s not just about power, flexibility and cost management, but if we can provide real agility and the ability to react to changing needs, we can serve our users and serve the world in the most important ways.”
An obvious case for agility comes from what IT went through a year ago, when the COVID pandemic hit and every organization’s IT department was forced into helping all the company’s employees work from home almost overnight. Many businesses had to pay a significant amount of money for VPNs, security and other technologies. A NaaS offering would have enabled organizations to adapt quickly without having to overspend.
First Cisco Plus offer is hybrid cloud
The Cisco Plus designation for complete solutions and creating a simplified buying experience that comprises multiple products. Cisco Plus will offer networking, security, compute, storage, applications and observability all available in an as-a-service model that’s easy to purchase and consume. Nightingale described this as being “Everything customers expect from Cisco, Plus a whole lot more.”
Its first offering will be Cisco Plus Hybrid Cloud. Available mid-year 2021, the solution will include Cisco’s entire data center computer, networking and storage portfolio as well as third-party storage and software. It offers a flexible consumption model and a broad set of lifecycle services from Cisco’s Customer Experience (CX) organization and its many partners. Businesses can choose the level of service they need for every phase of operations including planning, design and installation and offers 0-100% utilization commitments up front.
Coming soon: Cisco plus SASE
The next Cisco Plus offer will be its secure access service edge (SASE) solution. This is a logical expansion of the Cisco Plus products because many of the products that might fall under the SASE portfolio are already sold as a service. Products like Umbrella, Duo and ThousandEyes are subscription-based, while the hardware SD-WAN appliances are not. Cisco Plus will bring a greater level of agility and flexibility to SASE deployments.
It’s important to understand that Cisco Plus and NaaS are options for customers. Cisco understands it may not be for every company and the products can still be procured the way they are today. However, I do believe this will become more commonplace as digital transformation initiatives continue to accelerate. In the digital era, agility is everything, and the network has lagged behind in this area. Cisco NaaS brings cloud-like flexibility to the network enabling it to be in lockstep with the rest of IT.