Cisco’s Analyst Conference: A Reporter’s Notebook

Well, this is my first Cisco Analyst Conference in lovely San Jose, Calif. Did you know the cab ride from San Francisco Airport to the strip of hotels in San Jose is exactly US$100 – and they said New York cabbies are rip-off artists.

I was one of very few reporters at the conference, which is focused on a lot of number crunching and forecast analysis of the networking giant for the likes of IDC, Gartner, Yankee Group and, in Canada, for Seaboard Group and Decima Reports.

This conference has grown over the years. There are more than 400 registered guests attending. That is a 10 per cent increase from last year and more than half of the audience are first timers to the event.

Now, the analyst community is a very button-down group, so I decided to wear a suit and tie to the opening keynote. But as I sat down to hear CEO John Chambers speak I noticed few were wearing a tie. So much for past reputations.

Here’s what this event was like:

Day One

7:10 AM Pacific Time

Breakfast at the Santa Clara Convention Centre. It must be the area because I can’t understand why anyone would want a burrito in the morning. I run into several analysts, including Brian Sharwood of SeaBoard Group, one of the best Canadian networking and telecom analysts you can find.

8:05: Bump into Lang Tibbels, head of Cisco public relations. He was nice enough to attend CDN’s Channel Elite Awards in Toronto.

8:10: John Chambers’ keynote starts. I have seen Chambers speak several times and I’ve concluded that he is just too smart for this group, including myself. He is talking about three-to-five year technology bets that have all worked out. It is no wonder that he has been the CEO of this company for more than 10 years, when the average lifespan of a CEO in high tech is less than five.

8:15: Chambers is now rifling off about 20 names in each market segment to praise them for the job they have done. I am simply amazed at his ability to recall names.

8:37: During his keynote Chambers comes face-to-face with me about three times. I’m in the third row.

9:06: Charlie Giancarlo, chief technology officer for Cisco steps on stage. Giancarlo is the main tech guy at Cisco. He has the uncanny ability to make sense of technology. For example he describes SONA (Service Oriented Network Architecture), Cisco’s future enterprise framework, as a water tap. “When you go for a late night drink. You turn on your water tap and pour a drink of water. You do not expect viruses to come through the tap,” Giancarlo said.

10:06: Giancarlo, who is also the president of Linksys, a company Cisco acquired to great surprise back in 2004, is now 21 minutes over schedule and is cutting into the break period. Some analysts are standing up and leaving.

10:08: He end his keynote and the moderator gives the crowd a 20 minute break instead of the scheduled 25 minutes.

Day Two

10:04 AM: John Chambers enters the room for his roundtable discussion with the foreign press. He comes up to everyone to shake hands and pass out his business card. He says he is really excited to meet the media because he learns so much from us.

10:07: Chambers clearly states his company’s goal is to make the network the platform so users can access information through any device anywhere having no idea of where the data is stored. This plan is five to ten years out, he says.

10:09: Cisco is growing in emerging markets by 30 to 40 per cent.

10:11: Chambers’ No. 1 reason why an acquisition fails is the company acquiring does not believe how the vision of the future will evolve.

10:15: Chambers retells a story of how Dell came at Cisco with a price war. During the past five years, Cisco has outpaced Dell he said, because price is only 25 per cent of the product. Dell, he added, never factors in customer support costs. “Dell could give it away and we would still be a better decision,” Chambers said.

10:37: Colleague Greg Mechback, editor of CDN’s sister publication Communications and Networking asks Chambers if he is still interested in partnering with Nortel. He replies he is still open to the idea, but in a much broader sense and would want to include other companies such as Alcatel and Siemens. However, he added that he isn’t optimistic the partnership will ever happen, even with new leadership at Nortel.

10:45: I ask if Cisco would encounter any trouble with U.S. sanctions with its stated goal of being in everyone country in the world. Chambers said that it is absolutely his goal to be in every country. Cisco currently sells product to 164 nations. He said he wants to make a difference and make sure that everyone on Earth can have access to the Web, for example.

10:51 AM: Chambers is asked about the difference between Cisco’s ‘Net is the platform’ and Sun’s ‘Net is the computer’ philosophies. He said that Sun CEO Scott McNealy is a good friend and that the terminology is different. Cisco he believes is uniquely positioned in this area to go across all markets and that he was sorry to see that many of his peers at IBM, Sun, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard did not move with him.

10:55: As the press starts to wind down the roundtable, Chambers is hit with what I thought to be a shocking question about his childhood dyslexia. Chambers then goes into great length on how he battled dyslexia. He said he was very uncomfortable speaking about it five years ago. But now he wants to talk openly about his problems to help others. “Life throws you a curveball everyday,” he said. He wants to give people hope to participate in the future economy.

11:03: As I turn to leave the room I see former head of Cisco worldwide channels Paul Mountford, whom I have always thought to be a jolly fellow. I tell him than I am headed over to interview Keith Goodwin, who’s been hired to replace him. I say to him what should I ask him. Mountford says with a laugh to make sure to ask him “not to screw up all his good work.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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