UPDATED 17:54 EST / FEBRUARY 04 2022


Super Bowl offers just one example of Cisco’s vision for the converged, secure network

When an estimated 100 million viewers tune in to watch this month’s NFL Super Bowl, they will be seeing more than the Los Angeles Rams squaring off against the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles for the championship of professional football. They will be watching a massive network in action run by Cisco Systems Inc.

The stadium’s firewalls, routers, switching, telephony, Wi-Fi 6 and 4K video distribution are supported by Cisco. Nearly all of the signage within SoFi is digital, with 2,600 4K video displays located throughout the concourses. And all purchases are cashless, furthering the need for a robust in-stadium network with 2,500 access points.

SoFi Stadium, which opened in 2020, is a prime example of what the confluence of internet of things, video, cloud and mobility can provide in a network-driven model. For Cisco, it is also a demonstration of the hybrid future, where a single converged network connects every TV, point-of-sale system, and collaboration Wi-Fi endpoint with users.

“Network modernization is critical to the digital future of almost all businesses, no matter what,” said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst with ZK Research and a contributor to SiliconANGLE, following a private tour of the facility in December. “SoFi Stadium gives us a view of what’s possible — not just in entertainment, but everywhere.”

TheCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s live streaming studio, will be taking a closer look at Cisco’s evolving business model during “The Network: Powering Hybrid Work” event on Feb. 15. (* Disclosure below).

Leveraging ACI and Meraki

In recent years, Cisco has undertaken its own journey, experiencing the transition from a high-margin hardware model to a business based on software subscriptions and strategic acquisitions. It has maintained a strong position in the networking market while shifting to a new framework where customers expect software-defined networks and virtualized services.

At the core of Cisco’s approach are its Application Centric Infrastructure, or ACI, and Meraki, a cloud infrastructure startup acquired by the networking giant in 2012. Cisco’s Cloud ACI provides automated network connectivity, consistent policy management and simplified operations for multicloud environments. It supports Cisco’s belief that customers want centralized management of hybrid cloud computing, where software defined networks can be deployed and governed across multiple clouds and on-premises environments.

The Meraki cloud solution is a centralized management service designed to manage network devices on a single, secure platform. Its portfolio covers a wide range of hybrid work solutions, including wide-area networks and IoT technologies.

Recent data provided to SiliconANGLE by Enterprise Technology Research showed that Meraki had gained strong spending momentum among enterprise customers. This includes major firms such as Comcast Inc., which leveraged Cisco Meraki in the deployment of VPN gateways to facilitate remote work during the pandemic.

“Meraki arguably is one of the best acquisitions in Cisco’s history, perhaps rivaling Kalpana and Grand Junction, which resulted in the creation of Catalyst switches,” Kerravala said in a recent conversation with SiliconANGLE. “Meraki’s revenue is comparable and might be larger than security, so that shows you the momentum it has.”

Both Meraki and ACI have played central roles in the development of Cisco’s presence in software-defined networking, which automates, provisions, manages and programs enterprise networks. The company bolstered its presence in the SDN space with the acquisition of Viptela Inc. in 2017.

The combination of Viptela’s support for complex network topologies and Meraki’s capabilities in cloud-based management tools propelled the development of Cisco’s software-defined platform.

“The adoption of SDN has been gaining momentum, and this has been Cisco’s core for some time,” said Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Group and CEO of Broadsuite Media Group, in an interview with SiliconANGLE. “It’s been one of the market connection points for the company.”

Platform approach for security

Cisco’s software business is also intertwined with its security practice, a key part of the firm’s strategy and one that has seen several quarters of growth, according to ETR’s data. Cisco’s challenge is to rise above the noise of an industry with over 3,500 security point-solution vendors and counting.

Security has become a sizable business for Cisco. The company claims 300,000 security customers, with protection for 61 million endpoints and 840,000 networks, according to one recent report.

Cisco’s strategy for its security offering is based on a platform approach. Customers can choose which security solutions they desire, from user access and endpoint protection to locking up apps and data. In 2020, Cisco incorporated its security products into a single, cloud-native platform branded as SecureX.

During Cisco Live in Barcelona two years ago, the company highlighted a number of innovations in the security space, including a new security architecture for industrial IoT clients, leveraging its Edge Intelligence software. More recently, Cisco announced a “re-imagining of hybrid work” through multiple improvements to its Secure Access networking platform, including Wi-Fi 6E products, a private managed service for 5G, and a series of new Catalyst network switches.

Cisco’s Talos Intelligence Group is one of the largest commercial threat intelligence teams in the world. The group has been tracking increasing use of cloud technologies by threat actors that has made it more difficult to track attackers’ operations.

“We just have to invent new ways of detecting,” said TK Keanini, chief technology officer of the Security Business Group at Cisco, during an interview with SiliconANGLE. “Direct inspection is a thing of the past; we just can’t depend on it anymore. We have to have tools of inference, and it’s given rise to a lot of innovation in behavioral science.”

Strength in silicon

Cisco is also adding to a market trend exemplified by major tech players, such as Amazon Web Services Inc. and Apple Inc. It is developing its own processors.

In 2019, Cisco announced that it would enter the networking chip business with the launch of Silicon One. The new chip offering is a unified, programmable networking ASIC designed for next-generation 5G networks and routers.

Cisco’s foray into silicon allowed the company to revamp its webscale business, delivering large-scale cloud computing resources and infrastructure within enterprise IT. The firm’s FY22 Q1 earnings noted 200% growth in webscale, a reflection of Cisco’s strategy to provide a family of processors that can power every type of device.

Cisco will celebrate its 40th birthday in just two years, a solid run in an industry known for rapid technology shifts and persistent disruption. Cisco has seen the rise of hyperscalers over its nearly four decades of existence, and it has carefully cultivated its own relationships with the major cloud providers.

The firm has collaborated with AWS on an integration with its Edge Intelligence software, extended its SD-WAN technology deeper into Microsoft Azure, and pursued a similar arrangement with Google Cloud. As Cisco transitions its business model to become more software subscription-driven, it must still navigate the massive enterprise shift to digital and the cloud, and these partnerships will be key.

“The public cloud leadership inside an enterprise is becoming more influential,” said Futurum’s Newman. “Cisco has to understand the influence and importance that hyperscalers provide. Having a complementary role has been a strategic action for years now, and Cisco clearly understands the importance of that.”

(* Disclosure: This article is part of a series done in partnership with Cisco Systems Inc. Neither Cisco nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

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