Cisco’s former worldwide channels chief strategy officer Surinder Brar has claimed the vendor “failed to connect the dots” on cloud, missing the “biggest market transition in IT in a decade,” and is still trying to figure out a viable strategy today.
Brar led the networking giant’s channel strategy and programs for a decade until 2010, when he became the company’s worldwide channels chief strategy officer. In his final year with Cisco, he was chief of partner strategy, cloud and managed services, before parting ways with the company in 2015.
In a blog post published via LinkedIn, Brar appears to have called out his former employer on its cloud strategy, suggesting that, despite his own internal advice to the company regarding cloud, it had missed the opportunity to catch the cloud “tsunami”.
“I wrote an internal whitepaper for Cisco’s channel leadership about the upcoming ‘Cloud Tsunami’ in 2010 and the impact this would have on our channel,” Brar said in his post. “Reselling hardware would no longer be relevant and partner value-add would instead need to shift to professional services, software lifecycle support and even cloud related software development.
“Our partners would have to entirely change their skillset and completely transform their business model,” he added.
He suggested that, in addition to these points, Cisco’s own channel program would have to be totally revamped because it was — at the time, at least — mainly focused on driving hardware resale.
Brar claimed that Cisco’s then senior vice-president of worldwide channels Keith Goodwin read the whitepaper and subsequently made copies of the paper to share with others.
“I respected him for such transparency because these partners were under NDA [non-disclosure agreements] anyway and needed to know how, at least in my view, their future could be threatened by the new cloud paradigm of delivering enterprise IT services,” Brar said.
However, despite Cisco subsequently letting Brar focus exclusively on the company’s channel-related strategy relating to the cloud transition and helping guide partners on transforming their business models appropriately, Brar suggested that the vendor did not follow through with an adequate cloud plan.
“Cisco never came up with a corporate strategy or a product portfolio to participate in the cloud market during my remaining years with the company,” he said in his post. “Even software acquisitions like Webex were treated like hardware and their software renewal team disbanded after the acquisition.
“The company felt threatened by the recurring revenue model and was in denial regarding the impact cloud would have on its own hardware business,” he added.
In an anecdote, Brar claimed that at least some members of Cisco’s Cloud Council at the time dismissed Amazon Web Services (AWS), suggesting the company, now the biggest cloud provider in the world, did not pose a threat to the company’s enterprise accounts.
“I was flabbergasted because by this time AWS was at a US$4 billion run rate and almost doubling in revenue every year. I subsequently learned that Marc Benioff [Salesforce CEO and chair, who sat on Cisco’s board from 2012 to 2014] also got frustrated during cloud strategy discussions at Cisco board meetings around that time.
“Cisco leadership completely failed to connect the dots and entirely missed the biggest market transition in the IT industry in a decade. It seems like the company is still trying to figure out a viable cloud play,” he added.
While Brar suggested the vendor is yet to pin down an adequate cloud strategy, it should be noted that Brar departed his final role with Cisco in 2015 and, no doubt, the company has made some progress since then.
In 2017, for example, after years of juggling with different strategies of how to pursue the cloud computing market, Cisco came up with a plan to become a so-called Switzerland of the cloud.
Under the plan, Cisco would not spend billions of dollars to build a public cloud to compete with the likes of AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.
“That ship has sailed,” said Fabio Gori, head of cloud marketing at Cisco, in 2017.
Instead, Cisco wanted its existing customers, and new ones, to think of the company as an independent arbiter of cloud resources. If customers want to use public or private cloud, Cisco will help them manage those resources.
As customers look to deploy an internet of things (IoT) program, secure mobile devices or get advanced analytics on their infrastructure or applications, Cisco will have a platform for them too. Cisco’s cloud strategy, it said at the time, would work across multiple public and private cloud environments – making it a neutral player in the battle of the clouds.
Whether or not this ties into an overarching cloud strategy for the company, that approach is likely to continue, at least for the foreseeable future, according to Brad Casemore, research vice president for data centre networks at industry analyst firm IDC.
“Cisco will continue to have a significant focus on tying together cloud offerings from AWS, Microsoft, Google and other different cloud manifestations as it looks to help bring consistency across and mitigate the complexity of hybrid-cloud environments,” Casemore said in 2019.