Inside Cisco's Blizzard of Product News

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By: Mary Jander

Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) recently rolled out multiple announcements related to cloud visibility and automation, AI infrastructure, cloud security convergence, and generative AI (GenAI). The timing of the launches are linked to the Cisco Live EMEA event in Amsterdam.

What to make of it all? In general, it seems like an attempt by Cisco to unify a panoply of products and services around its strengths while beefing up some of its weak spots.

Unfortunately, it's also thick reading. And chock-full of marketing buzzwords. Let's try to dumb it down for the public. Here are some highlights:

Hitachi Vantara alliance. Cisco’s looking to strengthen its enterprise networking segment with new partnerships. On January 31, the company revealed that, building on a deal announced in June 2023, it is offering customizable managed services combining Hitachi Vantara’s storage solutions and Cisco’s modular compute and networking hardware. One thing: It's not exactly clear how the two vendor's products are integrated, since they seem to support their distinct management systems. It's also not clear who supports installations. We asked Cisco about this, but they didn't answer as of this writing.

NVIDIA integration. Perhaps an even more significant partner emerged this week when Cisco announced that starting this month, it will equip its M7 generation of Ethernet-based UCS rack and blade servers with NVIDIA GPUs. Cisco will resell NVIDIA AI Enterprise software for AI development on the platforms. Also available will be Cisco Validated Designs (CVDs) incorporating Cisco datacenter and networking products with NVIDIA AI Enterprise to support AI clusters in a variety of use cases. Bottom line? Cisco looks to be making a bigger splash in AI with a NVIDIA reseller agreement.

Multiple observability solutions. It’s not surprising to see Cisco issue a slew of observability news, since that’s the area in which it reported the most growth last quarter. Cisco has added a series of solutions to its Cisco Observability Platform (aka Full Stack Observability or FSO Platform) that equip it for end-user and session monitoring of cloud applications. There is also planned integration with Cisco ThousandEyes real-time network observability and Cisco Accedian performance analytics. A new GenAI natural language interface has been added for troubleshooting.

More observability. Cisco also offers Kubernetes observability on the FSO Platform via extended Berkeley Packet Filter (eBPF). (Recall that Cisco’s planned purchase of Isovalent brings Cisco that technology as implemented in the Cilium open-source project, known for bringing security and monitoring features to Kubernetes clusters.)

… and more observability. A new Cisco AIOps for Cisco Full-Stack Observability addition to FSO unifies data from Cisco's AppDynamics application performance management solution, Cisco ThousandEyes, Cisco DNA Center network controller, VMWare, Zabbix, and ServiceNow.

Security solutions – and SASE. For Cisco, security has been a disappointment revenue-wise, but the company seems determined to change that. Cisco Identity Intelligence uses AI to visualize and analyze companies’ existing identity stores in an effort to halt criminal access. The company boasts that it's breaking ground in unifying networking, identity, and security.

Cisco also has added a natural-language AI Assistant in Secure Access to its security service edge (SSE) platform, which it has also integrated with its Catalyst software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) to offer a bona fide secure access service edge (SASE) solution.

Unified Catalyst management. Cisco is taking steps toward “full cloud management for the Catalyst switching portfolio” by adding Meraki visibility for Catalyst wireless gear and Catalyst 9300-M switches, which implement microsegmentation for security.

New edge solution. As part of its “Networking Cloud Vision,” Cisco’s new UCS X-Series Direct is tailored to edge locations. The system can be set to perform AI/ML inferencing, support cloud-native container-based networks constructed via Red Hat OpenShift or virtual environments based on VMware. It is managed via Cisco Intersight.

GenAI Assistants/Assistance. Outshift, Cisco’s emerging tech division, announced a context-aware GenAI assistant for its Panoptica DevSecOps environment. Outshift also introduced GenAI protection for Panoptica, which reports false or malicious prompts made to large language models (LLMs).

AI management. Cisco unveiled Motific, a SaaS offering that implements, coordinates, and secures the GenAI process. It implements policies on data used to train LLMs, tracks security and privacy, monitors for model errors and hallucinations, and provides full business ROI and operational information and metrics. It’s set for availability by June 2024.

Unifying Under Key Banners

Cisco’s efforts to unify its products under the banners of observability, security, and AI indicate the company’s eagerness to draw together products and services in areas where it sees potential growth – and in some cases, where it’s fallen behind expectations up to now. In particular, Cisco appears to be determined to strengthen its position in cloud networking and security, both areas where it’s encountered challenges and criticism.

Futuriom Take: It's hard to grok what's up with Cisco's PR onslaught, given the dense marketing verbiage of the press releases. Cisco looks to be touching all the hot buzzwords like AI and observability. Investors might want to wait for the real substance when the company delivers its earnings report on Valentine’s Day.