by Gina Narcisi, CRN

As the AI revolution rocks the IT market, Cisco Systems Chair and CEO Chuck Robbins is determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. When the cloud computing market transition reshaped the competitive landscape in the mid- 2000s, networking market leader Cisco was caught flat-footed, according to Robbins.

That's not the case with AI.

Cisco—supercharged by its $28 billion Splunk acquisition, which closed in March—is primed to seize the high ground in the battle for AI supremacy with a big data AI-enabled security and observability advantage that no competitor can match, Robbins said in an exclusive interview with CRN.

"We're just trying to move fast," he said. "I think that the thing I would say is that if you look back at the original cloud transition, I think Cisco was ill-prepared for that and didn't handle it very well. And in this case, I think we're super well-positioned."

Solution providers and customers will see early fruits of the Cisco-Splunk integration in products as quickly as the RSA Conference in May, with even more to come in June at the Cisco Live and Splunk .conf24 user conferences, Robbins said.

The innovation wave will build on what Robbins calls the "three big pillars" of Cisco's AI vision. That includes, first, the fundamental infrastructure on which web-scale and enterprise customers can run large language models and advanced AI workloads; second, the transition of Cisco's product interfaces to operate in natural language via AI-enabled assistants; and then, third, enabling customers to use AI to tap into the massive data sets available through Cisco and Splunk products. That will result in a stronger defense and remediation strategy for security threats and better application performance.

Underpinning that vision are several technology plays, including the San Jose, Calif.-based company's Silicon One scalable networking architecture for powering large AI workloads, as well as its expanded partnership with Nvidia, unveiled in February, in which the two companies are building AI infrastructure offerings for the data center. The partnership brings together Cisco's Ethernet networking prowess with Nvidia's extensive expertise in GPUs and AI hardware and software.

In addition, Cisco has introduced a handful of AI Assistants baked into some of its products, including AI Assistant for Webex and AI Assistant for Cisco Firewall, which employ natural language to make it easier for users to make changes or deploy new policy rules.

Cisco partners also have an important role to play in its AI odyssey.

World Wide Technology, the $20 billion solution provider behemoth, for example, is banking on Cisco and Splunk to drive AI growth.

St. Louis-based WWT is eager to showcase in its lab environment the benefits of integrating the Splunk Enterprise Security SIEM (security information and event management) offering with Cisco's security and observability tools. That combination will provide unfettered access to an unprecedented amount of networking data, said Chris Konrad, area vice president of global cyber for WWT, which has annual Cisco sales totaling more than $7 billion.

If done correctly, that's where Cisco stands to become an AI market leader, Konrad said.

"That's what makes us really excited from a partner standpoint—pulling all of this into our AI proving ground," said Konrad, whose company is spending $500 million over the next three years to buildout the AI capabilities on display in its Advanced Technology Center. "WWT is already a Splunk partner, but the combined company will give Cisco and its partners the ability to be better together."

Konrad also touted Cisco's dedication to security and AI.

"I know I've never seen in my career Cisco as committed to security and, more recently, [as] committed to AI," he said.



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