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Straight Talk Service Provider

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Sometimes, if all you do is make hammers, then every challenge can seem to come in the shape of a nail. At Cisco Live EMEAR (Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Russia) in Barcelona this week, Rowan Trollope, Cisco's SVP of Applications division, enumerated the major challenges enterprises are facing when it comes to matching IT to business demands: a lack of adequate security can hinder business agility and innovation; multi-cloud environments present management challenges; enterprise and network data remains unanalyzed, and its power to predict problems is therefore blunted; and customer and employee experience remains suboptimal. The solution? A better network and network-dependent applications, of course. As new applications such as robotics and other AI-dependent services emerge, enterprises and service providers will face network traffic and quality demands that far outstrip even current high-definition video requirements. The solution? A better network, of course.

So, more of the same then from Cisco? Well, not quite. The company made a series of announcements covering its product portfolio and services offer that indicate important shifts in how it sees itself and how it wants its customers to see it. The network may still not be seen as central to enterprise digital transformation initiatives, but Cisco recognizes that the structures the network is being asked to hold in place and support are changing dramatically.

Positioning the network as the "secure intelligent platform for digital business" means that Cisco is now developing products and services with a more coherent overarching framework than previously, with five guiding principles: security is foundational (invest in the portfolio and bake it into every offer); evolving the network as existing deployed equipment is becoming dated (sell more based on a services model); embracing a multi-cloud world (launch Cisco Container Platform and extend partnerships with Azure and Google); unlocking the power of data (use AI and analytics to predict and diagnose network faults); and enhancing customer and employee experience (through next-generation collaboration tools).

This is a conservative approach – one that takes account of its current product and services assets; but most importantly, it brings coherence to a vision for the entirety of Cisco's complex and extensive portfolio. However, it assumes enterprises and service providers will be willing to swap out otherwise functioning network equipment and move to more of a services-oriented world where network hardware and software has a shorter lifespan. Cisco's attempts to catalyze this shift include investment in Network Intuitive solutions across service provider network (DNA Center Assurance), enterprise (Meraki Wireless Health), and data center (Network Assurance Engine). Its investment in DevNet underlines its continued transition to software-enabling the network and fostering network-centric application development through partners. It is matching these product developments with a shift in its services organization towards the provision of "intuitive" optimization services across all its products via a more integrated Business Critical Services platform with better predictive and analytical capabilities.

In Ovum's view, these transitions, both from the demand and supply side, will take a good deal of time. Cisco has gently come to grips with framing its product portfolio and services development through network-related business issues that are relevant. Cisco Live EMEAR may have marked a turning point from a world of hammers and nails to one in which even the biggest network vendors tilt firmly rather than tentatively towards applications and services.

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