What John Chambers thinks of Satya Nadella

LAS VEGAS – Each year Cisco CEO John Chambers spends an hour fielding questions from the high tech press at the Partner Summit conference. And, this year is no different. Its one of the great things about Chambers’ leadership that he makes himself available to the press and is transparent as he is.

In fact instead of dancing around questions he can’t answer, Chambers simply says he can’t answer the question. In this year’s session I had an opportunity to ask three questions. The one I was most interested in asking was on Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella and its outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer.

If you recall Ballmer and Chambers had a close business relationship that went south after Microsoft launched Office Communicator today called Lync back in 2007 and Cisco made its unified communications offering. There differences got so heated and at times even silly that Chambers and Ballmer met to iron things out live via Webcast in New York. Playing referee for the meeting was CBS Morning News anchorman Charlie Rose.

So I asked Chambers as a long time CEO in the tech sector what were his thoughts on Satya Nadella becoming the new CEO of Microsoft and also Steve Ballmer who he worked closely with at times and also battled?

This is what Chambers said: “Satya is world class. Satya was at our infrastructure launch last year and he was on stage with us and he said it was a game changer for Cisco and Microsoft. As for Steve Ballmer, he did a very good job in a tough market. If you recall he said one of the things he would do over was to combine software, hardware and Asics together. I think that is an important lesson and the same in the data centre as well. Microsoft is a company I admire very much and we have to see how it plays out in the next one or two years but Microsoft can become one of the more important strategic partners we’ll have.

I found his brief comments on Ballmer quite interesting. To be fair to Chambers I asked him this question during what he calls “The Lightning Round” where he usually answers questions quickly. But still I thought very telling. What it tells me is that Cisco wants to partner deeply with Microsoft and with their Intercloud announcement this week I think they are looking for an ally in the Microsoft Azure cloud.

I also asked Chambers about the challenges with white label vendors. This is what he had to say on that: “We saw it coming three  years ago. To us it was about differentiation against products from HP, Dell, IBM and cheap alternatives coming out of Asia. What does the customer wants?  They want top and bottom line growth. When you combine the software, hardware and the Asics along with the network, storage because you are moving anyway onto the cloud gives you better TCO. It produces better results much quicker. We need to teach the sales force on selling against the less expensive white box with open source.  We should not lose that battle. We might not know these markets that focus on price to well but our focus is on deliver business outcomes and we think we can win that way.”

I found these comments from Chambers interesting:

Rockwell Automation is one of his favourite Internet of Everything companies that the channel should work with.

Cisco has never been asked by a government to provide confidential information.

Cisco is one of the top infrastructure vendor in Russia along with a top security vendors in the city of Moscow.

One quick hit before I go. I bumped into Murray Wright at the Cisco Partner Summit. Wright you will recall was a senior vice president at Ingram Micro Canada and the president of Lenovo Canada, before leaving the vendor and Canada for a job running the Americas region for distributor Tech Data. Wright was named the CDN Newsmaker of the year for 2005. Wright told me that he left Tech Data in September of last year and is now the CEO of Zones Inc., a full-service solution provider based in Seattle. CDN wishes him well in his new role.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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