As Cisco Intercloud Turns One, Two of its Architects Reflect On How The Strategy Was Born
A Q&A with Cisco President Rob Lloyd and Cloud Senior Vice President Nick Earle
One year ago this week, Cisco announced a plan and a billion dollar investment to build the world’s largest Intercloud – a globally connected network of clouds from Cisco and our partners. As we arrive at the one-year anniversary, I took a few minutes to chat with Cisco President Rob Lloyd and Cloud SVP Nick Earle – two of the ‘architects of the Intercloud’ – about how the idea came about, and what they have learned in the year since the vision was unveiled.
David McCulloch: Can you take us back to early 2014 and remind us why Cisco needed to evolve its cloud strategy?
Rob Lloyd: In late 2013, even as sales of Cisco’s SaaS and cloud enabling technologies continued to rise, we started to see demand for a new cloud model: a hybrid cloud model that took into account our customers’ current IT investments and augmented those with a choice of cloud providers, and access to local and national cloud options to more easily comply with data privacy and industry regulations. We realized that if we could deliver all of that with one holistic hybrid cloud strategy that gave customers a high degree of control over security, policy and application performance, we had a huge opportunity on our hands.
DM: Enter Cisco Intercloud! How did the idea come about?
Rob: A few weeks before Cisco’s annual executive leadership team meeting, Nick Earle, Edzard Overbeek (head of Cisco Services), Jim Sherriff (chief of staff) and I met to brainstorm what it would take to deliver the hybrid cloud strategy our customers wanted. We knew we had some valuable assets already: Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) was capable of enabling consistent security and policy across clouds. Intercloud Fabric enabled portability of workloads between clouds. And our Integrated Architecture offers in the Data Center were already market leading. But we realized we could go further still if we fully embraced our extensive global ecosystem of partners. If we could combine Cisco’s strengths together with those of our partners, and move quickly, we knew we could disrupt current cloud models and become the market leader in hybrid cloud solutions.
DM: Whiteboard, notebooks or napkin?
Nick Earle: White board! The four of us began drawing the current partner/technology/services ecosystem on a whiteboard in the ‘Bat Cave’, a meeting room that is full of mementos Rob has collected on his business travels. The first sketch centered on applications running in Cisco data centers with remote access provided to our partners and customers, but that posed serious scalability challenges. We realized no company – not even Cisco – could deliver the global reach and local scale our customers were asking for to meet the massive challenges and opportunities presented by the Internet of Everything.
DM: So what was plan B?
Nick: We restarted the design from scratch, this time taking ourselves temporarily out of the picture and drawing everything from the perspective of the customer. We asked: what would it take to deliver the seamless hybrid cloud experience they wanted – irrespective of vendor or cloud provider? This was the key breakthrough. We redrew the global cloud network diagram with a green dot inside each element in the ecosystem – the green dot representing a technology capability that was at once secure and open – that would enable cloud federation. A pattern of green dots began to emerge and the lights went on – this was it! We had no name for the idea at the time so we began referring to it as the ‘Green Dot Strategy’.
DM: So how did the ‘Green Dot Strategy’ become the Cisco Intercloud strategy?
Rob: We wanted to make this strategy real for our customers as quickly as possible. So we compiled an inventory of all the capabilities we would need to pull it off: Secure hypervisor agnostic distribution of applications? Intercloud Fabric. Check! Application policy extensibility into other clouds? ACI. Check. Real time data analytics to billions of new devices and data at the edge of the network? Cisco Data Virtualization. Check! An extensive partner ecosystem that could put data centers in every country to provide global data sovereignty and provide a huge go to market advantage? Check again. We realized we had a winning strategy on our hands and we needed to move quickly to launch the strategy – at ‘Dev Ops’ speed.
DM: And we did move quickly. Cisco unveiled its Intercloud strategy fifty-six days later at our Partner Summit in Las Vegas. But that was really just the beginning, wasn’t it?
Rob: It all began with Telstra, our first Intercloud alliance partner, but once our ecosystem of partners had a chance to digest the concept, the feedback and uptake was off the charts! Now, one year after the unveiling, we’ve filled in a lot of the ‘green dots’ that we sketched on that whiteboard. We have amassed 60 Intercloud alliance, ecosystem and cloud provider partners with a footprint of 400 data centers across 50 countries, and the momentum continues.
Last week, I announced new Intercloud services together with DT at CeBit in Germany. This week I reviewed the revenues being generated by SunGard Availability Services that leverage their domain expertise in cloud recovery services, SAP and public cloud, and witnessed the faster time-to-market enabled by Intercloud.
When I see those advances, it’s clear to me that we have a created a big idea with the potential to truly be a game changer. Consider this: within nine months we’ll have a service availability capability that matches what the best known player in this category has taken nine years to build.
DM: What’s next?
Nick: Ha! You ain’t seen nothing yet! We’re really still at phase one of our strategy. In time, we’ll add hundreds of cloud service providers with thousands of services into the mix. That will arm our customers and crucially our partners with the industry’s best cloud service portfolio. The next phases are all about scaling out the availability of those services globally with alliance partners like Telstra, Deutsche Telekom, and others to be announced. Ultimately, we plan to create the world’s most compelling global cloud service exchange for business, where orchestration and management of services on Cisco and non-Cisco environments comes with world-class security, visibility, control and analytics. You can expect to hear more about that this summer!
How did your big idea come about? We’re curious to hear your innovation story! Post #innovativeideas.