Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Cisco Lays Out Aggressive Strategy to Capture More Cloud Business

Networking giant Cisco Systems has been angling to be a serious provider of cloud technology for a few years now, but hasn’t really laid out a strategy for how it intends to get there. Now that I think about it, it will be exactly a year ago tomorrow that I did my very first AllThingsD interview with Lew Tucker, Cisco’s CTO for cloud computing.

Today, Cisco finally laid out a cohesive strategy to become a significant player in the cloud business. It announced an offering called CloudVerse that combines three big elements — its Unified Data Center, Cloud Intelligent Network and Cloud Applications — into a big portfolio aimed at companies building out their data centers.

The idea is basically this: If you want to build a cloud, either to resell cloud services of some kind or for your company’s own internal operations, Cisco wants to talk to you. Under the CloudVerse tent are a bunch of offerings including computing, networking, collaboration and software for automating and managing it all.

Cisco named a handful of companies who are already CloudVerse customers, and a few will catch your eye, because they’re big. One is Terremark, the Web-hosting and cloud-services outfit that telecom giant Verizon acquired earlier this year. Others include Telecom Italia, Telefonica Spain and Fujitsu.

Naturally, Cisco is hoping to use its position as the supplier of choice for networking gear as a springboard into selling more stuff inside the data center, and it already has key relationships with many a corporate CIO. A key part of its go-to-market strategy will be convincing those CIOs that it has something unique to offer.

Here’s one such thing: The Network Positioning System and Cloud-to-Cloud connected. Imagine you have a sprawling set of far-flung data centers around the globe. When one center gets starts to get close to reaching its capacity load — maybe it’s Cyber Monday or something — Cisco’s NPS technology allows the routers in one data center to start automatically looking around for capacity elsewhere, to keep things humming along.

There’s a lot more detail to it, but it’s worth pointing out that, as a percentage of Cisco’s business, the cloud business isn’t huge. On an earnings conference call with analysts last month, CEO John Chambers said that the Unified Computing System that forms the backbone of its server business had recorded 116 percent revenue growth year over year; even with that, it’s on run-rate to being a $1 billion annualized business. If it hits that mark in Cisco’s fiscal year 2012, which ends in July, it will amount to about 2 percent of estimated annual sales.

But Cisco expects the cloud business opportunity to grow like crazy. Last week, it issued something called the Cisco Cloud Index, which estimates that more than half of all computing workloads will be running in data centers by 2014, and that the daily traffic conducted on cloud services of various types will amount to 1.6 zettabytes per year. My math may be off a bit, but compare it to the scale of your average hard drive — a zettabyte amounts to a billion terabytes, or a trillion gigabytes. Cisco describes it as enough data to amount to four days of high-quality video streaming for every person on Earth.

It’s a serious opportunity, no doubt. The question is whether or not Cisco can exploit it in a manner that moves the needle. Doing so is an important part of the strategy that Chambers set forth as part of the epic restructuring that has been going on at Cisco since last year. Investors seem to like what they see, as Cisco shares are trading at $18.80 today, which is up 41 percent from a recent 52-week low. As turnarounds go, it does look like progress.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald