Q&A: CTO says video a key driver in Cisco's strategic decisions

The network is still the glue, but Cisco Systems' chief technology officer says video now drives a lot of the switch and router giant's strategic decisions.

Padmasree Warrior, chief technology officer at Cisco Systems Inc., joined the tech giant in 2008 after 23 years at Motorola Inc., where she held a number of positions, including CTO. An advocate for women and minorities in engineering fields, Warrior was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame in 2007. No stranger to social media, Warrior has 1.4 million Twitter followers. And while her company might be better known for providing routing and switching for the largest organizations on the planet, Cisco has also invested in technologies that fit in your pocket, including the popular Flip line of video cameras. Warrior talked about Cisco's strategy, and why the company is betting on video.

Cisco seems to have gone well beyond a traditional routing and switching company to all kinds of collaboration. What's your vision for the Internet? The Internet is moving from a superhighway to becoming a platform that touches every aspect of our lives, with roles in health care, energy and city services. Our vision at Cisco is to enable the "next Internet." It can't be just about data transport, but enabling media experiences. The Internet also is no longer just about messaging, but collaboration. Facebook, Twitter and blogs that are popularized in the consumer world are coming to the business world. We have to create space for apps that integrate voice, video and data into a single platform. We've launched a product now being called Quad doing just that.

So collaboration of various kinds is the second pillar, after enabling media experiences, with a third pillar devoted to sustainability, which means power consumption, cooling costs and processing power. [That] leads us to think in terms of smart cities, smart buildings, green IT and energy efficiency. Virtualized infrastructure and cloud computing is the fourth pillar. So we have media experiences, collaboration, sustainability and virtualized infrastructure as the four pillars of our Internet vision.

What is Cisco's position in all that? Clearly, video is a killer app, and a sweet spot for us -- making video easy to capture, with multipoint connections and all kinds of apps.

Tell me more about Quad. Quad is a product launched in November in alpha for enterprise collaboration. The name Quad comes from college quads, those places you found in college where people interacted.

It became a question of how to create that experience virtually. Basically, Quad is an enterprise-class platform to integrate conferencing and unified communications and voice, video and social networking concepts into the enterprise space. So in that way, social networking translates into expert networking for business users. We already have WebEx collaboration on the iPhone and iPad and have announced BlackBerry support.

Cisco announced a pocket-size Flip video camera called Slide HD. Why is the company going in that direction? The lines are blurring between the consumer and enterprise worlds. People want to bring the devices they have into the work environment. Flip continues to lead in the pocket video camera space, and we want to keep making compelling devices to use. People use Flip for enabling video blogging, and I use it to blog short messages with my work community.

What have you learned from your experience with video blogging? Video is as close to a synchronous and immersive communication as you get to real life. But I also realize that e-mail might be more appropriate at other times. I collaborate all kinds of ways, from 140 characters to video blogging.

Does Cisco plan to add radios to the Flip devices, making them almost like smartphones? We are interested in the various forms of video and what will add value to video. That's our central strategy, so anything we do to strengthen that is important. Perhaps we'll add Wi-Fi capability to make Flip much more powerful.

Cisco has moved pretty far beyond the data center and the basic business of routing and switching. The newer technologies we look at all drive our core business. Video drives core things, including how we make software and routing to process video. It drives bandwidth. The network also plays a key role for how you combine security and policies for cloud computing. Everything I've described in the "next Internet" all ties back into the core of the network. The network is more or less the glue that brings everything together.

Cisco has been quiet lately regarding optical network transport. How would it take advantage of Google's big play for fiber-optic networks to bring high-speed Internet to homes and businesses? We'll align our strategy with what the service providers align with. What Google is doing with fiber-optic broadband is not something we'd consider contradictory to Cisco. Anything that drives bandwidth is good for us. Our approach is neutral.

When you meet customers, what are they asking for? I met 15 customers in Washington recently, and every single one was looking for collaboration and security. Small and large companies in the last five years have had distributed resources with sales and engineering teams all over, so it's a question of how to bring that expertise together. That's the reason collaboration is extremely important. But they are also looking at data center consolidation, virtualization, and many have reduced budgets. Green IT is also top of mind.

What does Cisco need to do better? We need to think of the networks as a way to create apps and to think of the user experience, including keeping things simple. Apple is good at user simplicity and [is] absolutely the benchmark for that.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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