Feature Story

#CiscoLive from pandemic to the next normal

Cisco Live

Cisco unveils its mission to power an Inclusive Future while launching new and updated services for security, collaboration, customer experience, and networking.

By: Sean Michael Kerner

With 120,000+ registered attendees, Cisco Live 2020 was not the event that Cisco had originally planned. The event was set to be in-person in Las Vegas but was adjusted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to become a digital event, which itself was postponed from its initial date, as Americans focused on racial inequality issues. During the event's opening keynote, Cisco Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins directly addressed the issues of the day and outlined multiple initiatives Cisco is taking to help. Cisco also used the event as a platform to launch multiple new and updated services for security, collaboration, customer experience, and networking.

"While 2020 has brought a lot of pain, a lot of sadness, and a lot of anger, I do believe that we can take the setbacks and turn them into progress," Robbins said during his keynote. "We can take the challenges, turn them into opportunity, and take some of the hate that we see in the world and turn it into hope, because we believe in what's possible." 

The Impact of COVID-19

Robbins said that Cisco has put $2.5 billion into the market for business resiliency, helping customers that may be facing liquidity challenges due to the pandemic by enabling them to defer payments on needed technology until 2021. Robbins added that Cisco is also contributing $500 million+ towards COVID-19 response and anti-racism efforts, to help do its part with recovery.

See also: Cisco Launches Portfolio of Solutions to Boost Business Resiliency for the Workforce and Workplace

To help quantify the impact and experiences of global IT leaders in the midst of COVID-19, Cisco surveyed more than 300 CIOs to gauge their viewpoints. It should come as no surprise that the pandemic has led to an increase in stress for CIOs, with security, productivity, VPN bandwidth, and budget restrictions as the top contributing factors. While there are challenges, there is optimism for the future as well.

"Almost 100% of the CIOs that we surveyed said that they're driven by a purpose, that's aligned to doing good and I think this is going to become more and more important to organizations and companies in the future," Robbins said.

The Work from Home Generation and Webex

Among the most impactful aspects of the pandemic is the global mandate for many to work from home, which has created unprecedented demand for collaboration tools like Webex. Javed Khan, Vice President and General Manager of Cisco Collaboration noted that by April, Webex had hit 25 billion meeting minutes which was three times the size of the normal average and demand continues to grow.

"We thought we knew everything that was possible with our collaboration technology, but what happened in March, changed everything," Khan said. "12 weeks later, we're on the other side of the most amazing work from home experiment, the world has ever seen."

To help support future growth and enable even broader usage, Khan said Cisco is extending its compliance solutions including data loss prevention, retention, and legal hold as well as eDiscovery, to Webex meetings. Going a step further, Kahn detailed the new Webex Assistant, which is a personal voice assistant that can help users with action items before, during, and after a meeting.

In a session specifically on collaboration, Abhay Kulkarni, Vice President and General Manager of Webex Meetings highlighted a new in-meeting experience coming to Webex. Kulkarni said there is a new preview window that allows users to review microphone and camera settings as well as preview what they look like, before entering a meeting. Additionally, the grid view of participants will now be the default option when a new meeting is launched.

"Lastly, we always had the five by five grid view fondly called the Hollywood Squares, " Kulkarni said. "We are further enhancing those Hollywood Squares in the five by five grid layout so that it is easy for you to find out who is the acting speaker."

Looking forward, there is more innovation coming to Webex with the new AV1 codec. Kulkarni explained that Cisco helped to co-found the Alliance for Open Media in 2015, as an effort to develop a codec that can deliver better video in challenging network environments. The AV1 codec provides significantly improved video quality, with less bandwidth. 

SecureX Set for General Availability

The big security news out of Cisco Live 2020 is that the SecureX platform that was announced in February 2020 during the RSA Conference will be generally available on June 30. SecureX provide users with a unifying platform for tying together different security tools and intelligence, enabling automation and integrated remediation capabilities.

Among the Cisco customers that are optimistic about SecureX is Don Bryant, CISO of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. In a session, Bryant said that SecureX gives his team visibility into their environment, seeing what's going on, as well as pulling in threat intelligence from Cisco Talos as well as other sources. He noted that with SecureX his team is able to quickly scan its entire environment to see if a particular threat impacts any of their assets and then take whatever action is needed.

"Taking care of all those ankle biters that really takes up you know 90 to 95% of your time and automating that, frees up the time to really focus on that five to 10% of stuff that can really shut you down," Bryant said. 

Network Insights Expand

During the Day Two keynote, Todd Nightingale, SVP & GM, Enterprise Networking & Cloud, at Cisco outlined a number of new network innovations that are now coming to market. Among them are a series of network insight capabilities that span multiple products across the Cisco portfolio.

The new Nexus Dashboard brings together multiple aspects of network management into a single unified dashboard. The Network Insights Advisor, which is integrated into the Nexus Dashboard provides administrator with a machine learning powered view into the status of network operations and what can be done to help optimize deployments. 

"Nexus dashboard represents the state of the art as the most powerful data center, networking management platform ever created," Nightingale said. " It is an incredibly exciting release for us here at Cisco because it brings together, so many products and so much functionality and really delivers insights and the ability to automate data center networks around the world."

Cisco SD-WAN is also getting a boost thanks to an enhanced integration with the Cisco Umbrella security platform. Nightingale explained that the integration is achieved with a tunnel from a client's SD-WAN clients out to Umbrella and the Cisco Secure Internet Gateway (SIG).

Rounding out the announcements is a series of customer experience (CX) updates that were announced by Alvio Barrios, SVP of CX. Barrios explained that the CX Cloud is powered by an approach he referred to as collaborative intelligence. A key new feature in the CX Cloud is the CX Success tracks capability that helps to bring the collaborative intelligence approach of insights derived through diverse sources, to help improve business outcomes.

"At Cisco we have been on this journey to help our customers to their digital transformation, by providing a lot more proactive and predictive services," Barrios said. "The objective is to improve the overall customer experience."

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