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Intelligent networks to support app economy, says Cisco's Chambers

Cisco CEO John Chambers hammers on new app economy and Internet of Things fueled by intelligent networks, but stresses infrastructure is still key.

NEW YORK -- By his own admission, Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers has been talking about application-aware and intelligent networks for many years. Recalling an interview he did with Information Week in 2005, he reminded his keynote audience at Interop New York on Wednesday that those topics were already key to Cisco's vision then, along with virtualization and data centers.

Delivering his first Interop keynote address in six years -- last having spoken at Interop Las Vegas in 2007 -- Chambers circled back to those two familiar Cisco talking points of applications and networks. But this time, he framed the discussion around what he called the "application economy," which will depend on intelligent networks that scale quickly and can securely connect vast numbers of devices -- otherwise known as Cisco's other favorite topic, what it has dubbed the Internet of Things.

"The future will be about applications," Chambers said. "It will not just be the next big thing; it's what will power our industry for the next decade."

He didn't explicitly define the term "application economy" during his keynote address, and made only a few high-level comments on what kind of network would support it, focusing more on reiterating Cisco's long-term vision than announcing specific products. Chambers did, however, offer a preview of what this so-called app economy might look like in a demonstration of how Cisco is partnering with Facebook to help enterprises enhance business-to-consumer interactions through wireless networks, social networking and business intelligence. The partnership, announced at the show, ties Cisco's Connected Mobile Experience engine to Facebook's budding Wi-Fi endeavors.

Chambers spent much of his keynote reflecting on how Cisco has asserted market leadership in various IT trends over the years, acknowledging that while mobility was Cisco's "Achilles' heel" just four years ago, the company has since captured the largest mobility market share. Anecdotes like these, along with Chambers' reiteration that Cisco has eventually pulled ahead in markets outside its comfort zone, suggest the company is trying to tell customers to be patient with its response to the latest market shifts.

Overall, Chambers appeared to be speaking less to the company's core customer base of enterprise network engineers about technical capabilities and more to their upper-management-level supervisors about business value and bottom lines. He did hint at one of the company's short-term strategies for how it will support the explosive growth in mobile devices and apps.

"Our industry is about to hit the next wave in terms of relevance, of changing the world, of changing healthcare, education, business process, et cetera. But it requires our ability to change at a pace that has not been done before," Chambers said. "The next move will be around applications with the network with scale and with security. That will be what we will talk about in this next year, and we will implement the architectures."

As far as what these architectures would look like and how they would differ from what Cisco's competitors offer, Chambers seemed to want to hold out on details until the company's official launch of its software-defined networking (SDN) spin-in, Insieme Networks, in November. Still, he underscored the importance of hardware, making several references to Cisco's investments in custom and merchant silicon.

"Make no mistake about it, we will commit [SDN] capabilities to our environment -- but software by itself will not get the job done," Chambers said. "As we all know, it will be a combination of compute, storage, applications [and] infrastructure, and that's what you'll see us lead with as a company."

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