If you recently visited a retail store, hospital, factory, stadium, or went into the office, chances are you interacted with a Cisco product. One of those products you likely used, lets you connect seamlessly to the internet. It's a small box mounted to the ceiling, called a wireless access point.
Cisco sells about 3.6 million of those a year, along with about 100 million switch ports, and 1.7 million routers which are other elements that make up an enterprise network. All those products, and many more are built by the engineers on Anand Oswal's team. He heads up a dizzying portfolio that spans Enterprise Networking products across routing, access switching, IoT connectivity, wireless and network and cloud services.
Not only does Oswal manage one of the largest engineering teams in the company, he has the distinction of holding more than 50 patents and has the award to prove it. His official patent count now stands at 60.
"I was fortunate to work on interesting pieces of technology for the last couple of decades. Patents usually come in context of a problem, and you think of innovative ways to solve that problem," says Oswal.
And problem-solve he does. There are too many to detail, but just as an example, his patents include those in core networking, cloud, location-based services, and one which is a standard used in 4G wireless networks today.
The three-word mantra
Oswal says he manages with a three-word mantra. That is: software, security and simplicity. Those three words are at the heart of Cisco's journey to help simplify how its customers build and manage their networks.
"Today a large part of an enterprise's IT budget is spent on managing the network. Customers aren't able to spend time on innovating. We launched the new era of networking, The Network. Intuitive. where we really want to automate the network – make it simple to operate and manage - embed security into the fabric and glean information out of it through assurance." Oswal says. As his team makes the network more open and programmable, they are using machine learning and AI to drive innovation forward for customers.
Oswal says Cisco's transition to software and subscription-based models has significantly changed how the teams are structured. "As we move to the model, there are faster innovation cycles, faster for customers and simpler for them to consume."
One example of faster innovation cycles, is the award-winning Catalyst 9000 switch. Oswal says, "We were able to bring that to market in 18 months. In the past, it would take us three years or so. We have moved the speed of how we operate. We also rebuilt a new modern operating system framework in just two years, it's modular, programmable, and able to scale across whole enterprise portfolio." The Catalyst 9k now also has the unique distinction of being the fastest growing product in Cisco's history. For customers, the shorter innovation cycle adds up to big savings.
"Take a large retail store with branches across the country, it usually took them months to deploy new software. As we move into a controller-driven paradigm, we are now able to shorten deployment cycles to an extremely short time frame," says Oswal.
Hiring the right people is key to Oswal's success. He says he looks for those who connect the dots and spot the changes Cisco needs to make in relation to the market.
"It's also about bringing in diversity in our talent and hiring differently. Not only in skill set, but the way people approach and solve problems," says Oswal.
It's about bringing in diversity in our talent and hiring differently. Not only in skill set, but the way people approach and solve problems.
Another big source of pride is the recognition the Enterprise Networking Engineering Team has gotten for innovation. He notes they have won eight Cisco Pioneer Awards in the last four years. A Pioneer Award is the highest recognition for an engineer at the company, what some refer to as "the Oscars of the engineering world."
Through dozens of patents, three stints at Cisco, and an active family life, there is one person who inspires him above all- that's his mom.
"I was five years old when my dad passed away. My mom brought up six children. She became an entrepreneur and educated all of us. She's my role model. She reminds me when faced with a difficult situation you can rise up and thrive."
Oswal believes in risk-taking and failing fast. When asked about the future of networking, he says, "The future is now. The new era of networking has just begun. It's all about simplicity, programmability, and analytics that drive business outcomes. If you don't innovate you will be left behind."
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