The 11-year Cisco veteran (22 years in the networking industry) last July took on data center and switching responsibilities when her mentor, Chief Development Officer Mario Mazzola, and colleague Luca Cafiero retired. ANS (Application Network Services) was added in December when Cisco launched the unit. Ullal presided over Ciscos rise as the hot (LAN switching) box vendor when she took the Catalyst LAN switching business from nothing in 1993 to $7 billion and the No. 1 spot in 2000.
But guiding Ciscos efforts to move beyond being a networking box provider for network engineers and administrators to become a trusted IT partner in the eyes of CIOs and IT vice presidents could be her biggest challenge yet. She spoke this week in Ciscos brand-new DNA (Data Center Networked Application) Lab with eWEEK Senior Editor Paula Musich. The DNA Lab will open next month to Cisco customers as a showcase for demonstrating to IT executives how a range of Cisco technology fits into the data center.
Cisco, as a company thats historically sold networking hardware to the network operations side of IT, doesnt have a lot of credibility in the data center. What is Ciscos plan to try to become a trusted partner of IT executives whose main concern is about business applications?
Ciscos roots started at the data center as a multiprotocol vendor, connecting mainframes to [distributed] networks. Now connecting storage and Fibre Channel is our foundation. So weve always been a data center player. The data center is evolving to provide infrastructure to connect storage, servers and applications. We see ourselves as the networked application vendor. We have huge responsibilities in networking application resources—i.e., how to connect machines, applications and users. The treatment is different for each of those. With our new DNA Lab, we will continue that journey.
How do you convince CIOs, who still look at the network as the plumbing, that greater intelligence in the network will help them meet their goals?
The good news is that CIOs and Cisco share the same vision: to enhance productivity and spend less on IT. In 1999, I [told an audience of IT executives] that voice, video and data would be integrated into the same infrastructure. Half of them said they wouldnt see that before they retired. The other half were open to it. The biggest obstacle was connecting new [voice over IP] infrastructure with legacy PBX equipment. Bridging the two worlds takes time. The reality of execution for customers takes time. Three years ago there was no security integration. Today its in 40 percent of the equipment we sell.
But wont you be competing with well-entrenched incumbents like Microsoft and IBM?
The data center wont be monolithic. Who owns the data center today? There are a myriad of players there now. Whats unique to Cisco is that we are in a position to connect to all of them without competing. Were in the business of enabling the productivity of their products. We wont be the only data center player, but we will be the most vendor-neutral player. Data centers have resources at one level, applications at another. Were the intelligent fabric in between.
How well is Ciscos Intelligent Information Network vision being received by IT executives among Ciscos base of customers?
On a scale of 1 to 10 [with 10 the most favorable], its between 8 and 10 with CIOs. But were only a third of the way there with execution. We will demonstrate more proof points with areas such as wireless and storage. With ANS, we have a three- to five-year journey for execution.
Cisco rival Juniper Networks seems to keep raising the stakes across the board with Cisco product lines—security, switching, application acceleration and WAN optimization. How is Cisco dealing with that competitive threat?
We didnt need to pay $4 billion to get into security. Netscreens market share [since Juniper acquired it] has stayed between 8 and 9 percent. Our last quarter was 37 percent. While their initial focus was service provider, theyve validated our IIN strategy. Time will tell if they are successful or not.
The ANS initiative was launched with a lot of fanfare, but no real deliverables. Some would argue that Cisco is late to this fast-growing market. How will Cisco catch up?
Ciscos execution in this space can be much better. When the content [networking] market escalated in 2000, there was a lot of fervor and then it went south. Cisco and Nortel didnt spend much on it. F5 [Networks] did, and they are a very tough competitor. Cisco was a pioneer with Local Director when it came out. More recently we are investing internally, and we bought Actona for File and Fine Ground for Web acceleration. We havent been as focused, but we are looking to restore the luster. Stay tuned.
Is Cisco targeting vertical markets with a more applications-focused set of offerings? If so, how is Cisco doing that, and how does that affect discrete areas like security, switching, storage, etc.? What initiatives have been launched to date, and how broad are they?
In general we do focus a lot on applications. The Protego [Networks Network Access Control] appliances have been a real success in the education environment. NAC is well-embraced in universities. Also with financial environments, they want to do multicast and high availability. For customizing applications there are a lot of features that we can apply to improve response time. With link optimizations we can minimize round trips for file transfers with smart caching. At the application level with Actona and Fine Ground we did specific [Web application] optimizations and some optimizations on video for service providers. We may need XML interfaces to work with application vendors. We can improve the performance of Siebel, SAP, Oracle and others by 30 to 300 percent. Above that, we can do more AON integration customizations.