Cisco CIO Talks SDN, OpenStack & IT Challenges - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

12:00 AM
Connect Directly

Cisco CIO Talks SDN, OpenStack & IT Challenges

Rebecca Jacoby spoke with editors at Interop about Cisco's internal IT operations, including ACI adoption and the appeal of OpenStack.

I had a chance to sit down with Cisco CIO and Senior Vice President Rebecca Jacoby and several other editors at a roundtable talk after her Interop keynote last week. For an executive at a multibillion-dollar, publicly-traded company (with all of the media reticence such a position might entail), Jacoby came across as open, genuine, and direct.

She spoke at length about Cisco’s internal IT operations, including the impact of SDN and why Cisco uses OpenStack.

I asked her about the kinds of complaints she gets about Cisco IT from internal customers. Her answer was immediate: “Nothing’s ever fast enough. When you work for a tech company, IT is a specific challenge.”

She noted that even though the internal IT team believes it’s at the cutting edge, “...the expectations of the business are far ahead of what we can deliver.”

“People will complain all day every day about their specific challenge,” said Jacoby. “The more personal it is, the more likely you get concerns.”

She has to balance user concerns with other IT responsibilities. “What the business doesn’t complain about, but would get us fired, is security or outages. The business never says to you ‘Did your resiliency get better?’ But that’s still our job.”

“You can never make everyone happy, so you have to decide where in your architecture you give people choices,” said Jacoby. To that end, IT keeps an eye on what kinds of tools employees use to see if it can make a recommendation to the organization as a whole.

“We just signed a deal with Box because that type of tech is used extensively and we want to lean people toward the technology that’s best from an enterprise risk perspective,” she said.

She also wants to provide more standardized resources in Cisco’s internal private cloud to make it easier for users and business units to get services such as compute and storage. “If I can automate it, it’s standard.”

Given all the industry talk around SDN and network programmability, another editor wanted to know about Cisco IT’s plans around ACI and APIC. Does the company eat its own dog food?

“We’re an alpha customer,” said Jacoby. “There will be a migration associated with it. I will have some things deployed within 90 days. In two years I’ll be running all our workloads on APIC.”

Jacoby said her office had interactions with ACI at the development phase. “I’ve had three or four guys working with it from the beginning. We in the CIO office know what’s coming and can say ‘This makes sense, this doesn’t.’”

While Jacoby will use ACI and APIC internally, adoption of Cisco products isn’t always a given. “We aren’t actually required to use the products, but we have a propensity to use the products,” she said. “We’ve had situations in the past where we didn’t want to use the products.”

In addition to Cisco gear, the IT organization uses a variety of third-party products and software to run its private cloud, including open source software. In particular Jacoby called out OpenStack, which Cisco uses as part of its orchestration layer.

“OpenStack appeals because it’s efficient and we think it’s going to scale,” said Jacoby. “It’s not totally about saving money. It’s about standards and flexibility. Orchestration management is a very challenging space. IT organizations historically have done a lot of customization because a vendor can’t identify all your specific needs. OpenStack uses the community to evolve the space and you can choose pieces to plug and play.”

Another editor asked whether network automation would enable Cisco to cut costs because it would require fewer people to run the network.

“We never have enough people,” said Jacoby. “The reality is, there’s not enough skill sets to cover this kind of work in the industry.” Instead, more automation would allow existing staff to take on new challenges.

“You have to help your workforce move forward,” she said. “You raise the level of what those people are doing where you still engage and use the great minds of your network and security guys.”

She did note that she expects operational costs to decrease because automation would cut down on mistakes. “There’s a percentage of operational outage incidents are related to human error, so we’ll see a reduction there,” she said.

Drew is formerly editor of Network Computing and currently director of content and community for Interop. View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
4/9/2014 | 3:56:29 PM
Re: Cisco CIO
Interesting that they use OpenStack internally but are looking to roll out the proprietary OpFlex to customers. 
Susan Fogarty
Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Author
4/9/2014 | 12:21:29 PM
Cisco CIO
Nice piece, Drew. I find it really fascinating that even Cisco faces a lot of the same challenges that "normal" IT organizations face -- too few staff, grappling with open source, etc. Clearly they are early adopters, but it's an indication of how complex technology is that even the biggest tech manufacturers have similar issues to their customers. At least they can understand some of the challenges. 
2021 State of ITOps and SecOps Report
2021 State of ITOps and SecOps Report
This new report from InformationWeek explores what we've learned over the past year, critical trends around ITOps and SecOps, and where leaders are focusing their time and efforts to support a growing digital economy. Download it today!
InformationWeek Is Getting an Upgrade!

Find out more about our plans to improve the look, functionality, and performance of the InformationWeek site in the coming months.

10 Things Your Artificial Intelligence Initiative Needs to Succeed
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  4/20/2021
Tech Spending Climbs as Digital Business Initiatives Grow
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  4/22/2021
Optimizing the CIO and CFO Relationship
Mary E. Shacklett, Technology commentator and President of Transworld Data,  4/13/2021
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
Planning Your Digital Transformation Roadmap
Download this report to learn about the latest technologies and best practices or ensuring a successful transition from outdated business transformation tactics.
White Papers
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Sponsored Video
Flash Poll