I was at Cisco IT EMEAR Data Centre Day today, surrounded by about 100 Cisco customers, sales, and IT people. This customer event was the first large European event where Cisco IT shared our own DC experience directly with customers. Cisco IT has a lot of experience deploying powerful new technology in the data centre – virtualized orchestrated platforms and cloud containers and ACI infrastructure and more. We’ve found that beyond the technology challenges, there are big changes required in our IT process, IT skills, and IT relationships with the business.  It was great to share with customers how we’ve dealt with all these challenges – technology, process and people – and to remind Cisco customers that they have friends inside Cisco IT who are happy to help.

This first Data Centre Day event was held the largest room in the Bedfont Lakes Cisco campus.  One long wall is composed of video screens, but for most of the time we met Cisco IT and Cisco thought leaders in person, and heard their thoughts and plans for Digitization and ACI and Fast IT.


And Fast IT was right; the day went quickly.  Cisco IT VP Lance Perry kicked off the event, introducing us to each of these Cisco leaders.  We settled in after some early conversation, and then:

We heard Cisco’s global CIO, Guillermo Diaz, who talked about digitization, how digitization delivers new business capabilities, and some of the “fast IT” successes Cisco IT has had with continuous delivery in accelerating the delivery of a lot of Cisco’s new customer-facing services. Cisco IT has reconfigured itself as IT-as-a-Service, so we heard a lot about IT services.  We redesigned our IT services to provide simplification on the outside, while enabling complex business data analysis, programmability and cloud services on the inside. Diaz provided several examples of new IT services and service improvements, including e-commerce and the partner supply chain, along with the new ACI data centre capabilities.  He then described the 5 pillars of Cisco IT strategy (along with security and continuous delivery) that Cisco IT is targeting in their drive to Digital, and Fast IT:  focusing on simplification, on extending the reach of the cloud, and on using insightful data (through data analysis and virtualization), while still keeping to operational excellence and a culture of employee collaboration, respect, and fun.

Frank P. D’Agostino, the CTO of Cisco’s INSBU driving ACI capabilities, added a good deal more detail to the capabilities of a controllable, programmable Data Centre infrastructure.  He explained the benefits of ACI technology – not just programmability and ease of operations, but the new security, monitoring and service virtualization capabilities that are part of this new architecture.  Comparing the pro’s and con’s of various SDN platforms, he explained the sheer scope of ACI which provides not just orchestration control but also deep levels of security and end-to-end monitoring as well.

We heard Dr. Alison Vincent, the Cisco CTO for UK and Ireland who shared insights and stories around Digitization, and how Cisco’s new CDO is applying a digital strategy of new collaboration, social media, and mobility on the one hand, and business analytics on the other, to provide new customer services. She provided some astonishing experiences about the power of new digital technology that’s changing the way people relate to cutting edge technology in daily life.  She also talked about digital automation and continuous service improvement processes as useful tools on this journey.

Cisco IT’s Senior VP, John Manville, brought all this – digitization, ACI, orchestration, fast IT –  into firm reality as he detailed some of the successes Cisco IT has already had.  With our virtualized private cloud providing IaaS and PaaS for over 3 years, Cisco IT is migrating Cisco’s entire business data processing infrastructure – three major data centres – to an Application Centric Infrastructure architecture.  Our big data analytics platform and several databases are already in full ACI mode, and our private cloud is next.  He also hinted at plans to extend this end-to-end programmability and visibility beyond the Data Centre and into the WAN and out to Cisco’s 600+ branch offices.

By that time, a lot of questions had built up.  Many IT leaders present had started moving along similar paths, and had a lot to say, and more to ask. They wanted to know more about ACI deployment and capabilities, about Cisco IT’s data centre architecture, the value and implications of continuous delivery for IT organizations and their relationship with the business, and what Cisco IT leaders see in the future. This was another great time to network.  People were meeting with a wide range of IT leaders from all over Europe and the Middle East, and luckily there were breaks and a nice long lunch to enable some valuable discussion time.

Lance Perry waited until after the discussion to show us what that entire wall of video screens was for:  they took us on a virtual live video tour of Cisco’s leading edge data centre in Allen Texas, where all these data centre technologies are already deployed and in use.  They had a documentary television crew streaming the tour live from Texas back to the video wall in the UK.  Two of Cisco IT’s data centre architects walked with us through the various enormous hallways and server, storage, chiller, and power rooms, answering our questions and explaining the implications of what we saw.  We learned about planning a data centre, designing for virtualization and orchestration, and how these capabilities impact simple things in the data centre like backup capabilities, power and cooling technology, and cabling design. Throughout this tour, the messaging of digitization, fast IT, and agile business capabilities came back in electricity and steel, in data centre layout and design, from the IT architects who make it all happen in real life.

I’m not sure what was most valuable: networking with other IT leaders during breaks and lunch; meeting Cisco leaders and hearing their stories and roadmaps for the future; the informal Q&A among attendees and the formal Q&A with Cisco execs; or the live video tour of a living, breathing data centre which embodies all the technology and business capabilities we heard about throughout the day.  But it was a unique and valuable look into the business and the data centre of the future, inside Cisco, from Cisco IT.

There will be another Cisco IT Data Centre day this year, in Texas, in late September 2016.  But we in EMEA will have to wait for another year, until 2017, to see what’s new inside Cisco’s data centre.

And videos from this day – selected presentations and especially the virtual data centre tour – will be available to Cisco employees.  If you missed the opportunity to be there, Cisco sales people are encouraged to share these videos with you.