What 2020 May Hold for Cisco
One of my colleagues at Intel, quite a few years ago, casually mentioned during a desktop deployment that "you'll never go wrong buying IBM hardware and Microsoft software." That turned out to be half-true.
IBM dominated the world's need for computing resources for 50 years. They were the undeniable powerhouse of mainframes, but the computing industry moved away from them. IBM's eclipse came in 1984, when a startup's ad captured the imagination of the nation. When IBM eventually entered the personal computer market, they had hesitated too long. In 1992, they posted the largest corporate loss in history: $4.96 billion. That's nearly $9 billion in 2018 dollars.
Cisco has no such shortsightedness. They've been the leader of every new technological challenge that's emerged from mobile to IoT to security. They continually look to the future, knowing that this is the cost of doing business if they are to remain the preeminent force in connectivity.
Could they be eclipsed like IBM? They have their finger on the pulse of each of these technologies, which will carry them into 2020 and beyond.
The World Has Gone Mobile
The latest Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast from Cisco reports that mobile will 20 percent of total IP traffic by 2022. With the
It 2015, there were 97 million wearable devices. In 2020, there will be 600 million. Wherever they go, they will likely be connected to a network run on Cisco hardware. Cisco is well aware of this fact, and takes this into account in how they respond to future need.
IoT into the Future
Many would argue that we don't really need our refrigerators talking to one another. Whether or not that is true, most would agree that having the capacity to control devices that are instrumental to completing repetitive tasks can reduce the need for physical pretense in most cases and thus drive down the overall time to complete those tasks.
In 2011, Cisco ambitiously predicted 50 billion devices would be connected by 2020. Many decried this estimate as wishful thinking, and other not so flattering attributes. And yet, it seems there are reasons to believe Cisco's prediction may reach its mark:
The Cloud. Cloud computing, once suspected of being a vulnerability, is here to stay. It is inarguably indispensable in the mobile environment. Edit a document at work, and when you get home it is ready to go. No hardware needed; no further action. This also allows for cloud-connected IoT devices.
Mobile Networks. To be truly mobile, you must connected. Consumers have come to expect this, and it is rare they are disappointed within the urban space. This expectation will be a driver in IoT.
Smart devices and wearables. Smartphones are a typical access point to IoT devices. Climate control, entertainment, security systems, and site maintenance systems can all be controlled with the device in your hand. Even your watch can have this function.
TCP/IP. IoT has brought with it different network protocols. IPv6 ensures TCP/IP will likely not be displaced. All non-TCP/IP protocols could not function without it, since they route through TCP/IP.
All is not rosey. Two things darken the potential of IoT. Security is an issue, and there have targeted exploits against IoT devices. The other is energy. Since the goal of 50 billion has not been met, and energy consumption is already a concern, there is just cause.
Cisco's vision is the intelligent network. To date, the evolution of networking has been based simply on speed: 10Mbps, followed by 100Mbps, and finally the Holy Grail—at the time—1Gbps. We've since blown through that intersection and beyond, but Cisco has escaped the box defining speed as the sole metric of a robust network. Cisco's solution for the future of networking is to embrace DevOps. DevOps, for the uninitiated, marries software development (Dev) and information technology operations (Ops) to shorten the systems development life cycle while delivering features, fixes, and updates frequently in close alignment with business objectives. The result takes traffic out of the prison defined by the current network speed limit to enhance throughput using improved software and state-of-the-art architecture. It is their conviction that this is what will drive the future of networking. It depends on a highly complex combination of ever-sophisticated hardware and focusing on software development.
The result of taking this direction are Cisco's increasingly intelligent hardware. Cisco recently announced their new 9000-series. Featuring fixed and modular configurations, this series has a programmable ASIC, allowing it to receive new features and updates. This gives Cisco the ability to add new features via software updates optimized for the DNA Center management platform. Wireless will continue to expand, and the 9000 performs as an edge switch for intelligent and wireless devices. It can also act as a wireless controller and supports both PoE+ and UPOE devices. Rounding out this impressive offering will be support for encrypted traffic analysis.
The 9000 goes a step further. Cisco is using machine learning to place this series at the core of their Intent Based Networking System (IBNS). IBNS is the closest thing to intuition. Using machine learning to collect network traffic and contextual information, who we are, what resources we access, our location, and how endpoints are connected, our experience can be customized and security fine tuned. Machine learning analyzes context and meaning to intuit new insights and predict outcomes, which actualizes insights from the data. This is nothing short of genius.
"No One Ever Got Fired For Going with Cisco"
They continue to be the leader, despite dire predictions of being displaced by the competition. In a recent blog post about Ubiquiti versus Cisco, CBT Nuggets trainer Jeremy Cioara said, "No one ever got fired for going with Cisco."
And that's absolutely still true. Is the comparison to IBM a prediction for the demise of Cisco? No. They will be possibly the only relevant player for the foreseeable future, for the reasons below. The eclipse of IBM was the result of a shortsighted view from the boardroom. They did not adapt soon enough to suffer catastrophe, and are now primarily a software company. Cisco has no such shortsightedness. They continue to be the leader, despite dire predictions of being displaced by the competition.
Cisco also launched in 1984, oddly enough. This proved a stroke of luck, because thanks to the PC the need for networking resources was about to explode. The evolution of Cisco parallels that need, and fueled their evolution into the company we see today. Now, however, with competition waiting in the wings, and need having reached a static curve, Cisco feels compelled to proactively direct their future, and perhaps the future of networking in the process. Even if Cisco's core business is not directly involved, by virtue of their vision they are inextricably linked—more than any other company—to every aspect of the interconnectivity of our digital infrastructure.
Cisco isn't going anywhere except up.