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Cisco Service Provider Strategy, APIs Empower Partners of All Sizes

Google Cloud’s Nirav Sheth
Cisco VP Nirav Sheth

For perhaps the first time in Cisco Systems' history, the company has an end-to-end service provider strategy that extends from massive carriers and telcos down to MSPs in the small business sector. Plus, the company's API (application programming interface) strategy could unlock new opportunities for partners that build their own software practices.

No doubt, Cisco has long engaged carriers, telcos, VARs, systems integrators and MSPs. But for most of the company's history, the 'managed services' term was really an enterprise or midmarket play -- specifically targeting carriers, wireless giants and service providers that largely consumed the networking giant's hardware. Until recently, smaller MSPs in the SMB sector felt left out in the cold, ChannelE2E believes.

Engaging Service Providers of All Sizes

Indeed, Cisco finally realizes that a growing portion of its partner base -- including thousands of VARs that transformed into MSPs -- shifted to OpEx and monthly consumption models. Amid that reality, Cisco has a growing mix of products and on-demand services that partners of all sizes can either consume or resell to their end-customers. The service provider changes are apparent across the enterprise, midmarket and SMB sectors.

A few examples of Cisco's end-to-end service provider efforts include:

1. Information-Centric Networking: At the high-end of the market, Verizon and Cisco are testing so-called Hybrid Information-Centric Networking (ICN) to manage content-aware service offerings.

The two giants describe the strategy this way:

"By focusing network communication around “named data” rather than location identifiers such as IP addresses, Verizon and Cisco believe they can dramatically simplify next-generation network architecture; enhance user-to-content communication; and improve mobility, storage and security in the network."

In collaboration with Cisco, Verizon demonstrated Cisco’s open-source ICN software and validated its benefits over standard TCP/IP solutions for optimized mobile video delivery in a lab at the Verizon Innovation Center in Waltham, Mass., the companies add.

2. 5G Now for Service Providers: Cisco's emerging portfolio of '5G Now' products and services surfaced at Mobile World Congress in March. The multi-cloud effort includes:

  • IP Core: Cisco can expand programmability and capabilities of the network with real-time telemetry for automation, featuring the Cisco NCS-500 Series of access routers with the Cisco IOS XR software as a single domain from the data center to the cell tower, the company says.
  • 5G Packet Core and Service Edge: With Cisco Ultra, its cloud-native, mobile virtualized packet core, Cisco provides a unified platform for service enablement over licensed and unlicensed radio solutions and IoT services – all the way to the network edge, the company asserts.
  • Access: Cisco's offerings unify cable, fiber, WiFi, and licensed radio solutions including virtualized RAN architectures .
  • Client Services: This includes such offerings as managed Cisco Spark for collaboration service over mobile; virtual managed services for cloud-based SD-WAN business services; and Cisco Jasper for IoT, the company says
  • Security: The company wants to securely enable 5G mobile networks.
  • Professional Services: Here, Cisco provides hands-on guidance to 5G partners.

Teaser alert dating back to Mobile World Congress: Keep a particularly close watch on Stealthwatch Cloud for cloud-managed network security, and the Cisco Umbrella Security Suite. Cisco mentioned Stealthwatch extensively during the massive mobile conference in February. It's a safe bet more moves are coming.

Extending to SMB Managed Services

If Cisco had a service provider blind spot, it involved MSPs in the SMB sector. In recent years, plenty of MSPs complained to me privately -- noting that the company had either abandoned SMB channel partners or overlooked the small business managed services opportunity.

That began to change -- in a big way -- when Cisco quietly built a partnership with ConnectWise earlier this year. At first, I assumed ConnectWise's IT management platforms would merely monitor and manage Cisco networking hardware. Boy was I wrong.

In reality, the Cisco-ConnectWise partnership -- unveiled during Cisco Partner Summit 2017 -- was far more ambitious. A new management dashboard, called ConnectWise Unite, allows technology solutions providers to manage and monetize a range of Cisco-provided SaaS services.

So what's next? It's a safe bet Cisco and ConnectWise will provide partnership updates during next week's ConnectWise IT Nation 2018 conference in Europe, and Cisco Partner Connection Week 2018 in Nassau (the Bahamas).

Where Cisco Software APIs Fit In

Amid all the progress, Cisco also realizes that it can't sell closed hardware, closed software and closed SaaS services. To help service providers of all types further monetize Cisco's platforms, the company has been helping partners to build software-led business practices. The effort, Cisco VP Nirav Sheth told ChannelE2E in February, involves:

  • Software solution sales
  • Software licensing expertise
  • Lifecycle advisory services
  • And in many cases, software development services

Cisco partners that embrace the company's APIs and push toward software development, Sheth says, can better address:

  • Network performance
  • Value-added services
  • Security
  • Network-oriented DevOps
  • and Multi-cloud managed services

The extensibility of software, Sheth adds, is a big partner opportunity that allows partners to access new types of buyers, engage earlier in deal discussions, increase customer stickiness, build recurring revenues, increase gross margins, and enhance deal size by 100 percent to 200 percent, he estimates.

Early examples of success involve partner solutions built on top of Meraki. Within that ecosystem, partners now offer WiFi device geolocation services; automated network setup and custom apps; and location-based application triggers.

Overall, Cisco is striving to engage 1 million developers through certifications, training, innovation and content expansion. What's the current developer count? ChannelE2E isn't sure. But partners can check out some of the recent milestones and next steps by visiting Cisco DevNet.

So what's next? Keep a close eye on Cisco Partner Connection Week 2018 next week in Nassau.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.