Practical Analysis: Cisco Eats Its Own Dog Food, But Pragmatically - InformationWeek

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5/18/2011
02:50 PM
Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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Practical Analysis: Cisco Eats Its Own Dog Food, But Pragmatically

CIO Rebecca Jacoby is progressing from virtualization to private cloud to hybrid cloud--all guided by careful data analysis.

At the Interop show in Las Vegas this month, I attended the keynote presentation of Cisco CIO Rebecca Jacoby. Later that day, she sat down with Rob Preston and me for a longer conversation. What we got was a fairly pragmatic discussion of Cisco's needs and how those fit into the ideal view of service-oriented IT and delivery of those services.

One thing that's always been true: Cisco believes in the products it sells. With just a few exceptions, the company uses its own products, from phones to big bad routers. So with the introduction of its Unified Computing System (UCS) server products, Cisco has had the challenge and opportunity of adopting its own new products as it moves from a workload-optimized environment to a highly automated hybrid cloud environment. In her presentation, Jacoby said 57% of 1,300 applications identified within Cisco data centers had been virtualized.

Whether you're a glass half full or glass half empty type, that 57% is an interesting number. On one hand, it speaks to just how hard the process is. Those 1,300 apps don't all provide unique services; they integrate with one another, often in ways that may be hard to discover. Sometimes moving an app to a virtualized server is as simple as packaging it up into a virtual machine and launching it. Other times, you learn about dependencies you'd think should never occur ("What do you mean we can't change the IP address for that app?").

On the other hand, UCS is a new product line by any measure, and while the Cisco brass is keen to see its products used internally, Jacoby's got a tight budget just like every other CIO. So that 57% represents a lot of hard work, and it likely also represents the easiest applications to migrate. Jacoby's goal is to have 80% of Cisco's IT services virtualized by the end of this year.

And of course virtualization isn't the end goal. It's a means to providing better service to business units and allowing them to better understand and control the costs and benefits of the services they choose.

The Outsourcing Decision

Like everyone else heading down this path, Jacoby's team is constantly evaluating which services need to run within Cisco's data centers and which can be outsourced. While Jacoby was vague about the services Cisco is looking to outsource, she did have some advice for budding entrepreneurs: Think about starting services in emerging markets. That's where companies like Cisco need help, as emerging markets are a very expensive proposition. Even Cisco, with its extensive field operations, would buy from those who know local markets and offer quality services there.

The most surprising thing about our discussion with Jacoby was the extent to which she sounded like every other talented CIO, particularly as she got past the noticeably uncomfortable task of delivering the Cisco message that she's required to present. She's data- driven, service-oriented, and pragmatic about serving her customers. She's very aware that she's serving a company of experts, and that the best way to handle their good intentions is to listen to their advice, but listen more to what her performance numbers are telling her. There's a lot to be said for that approach.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. You can write to him at [email protected].

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

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