On the cusp of his one-year anniversary as CEO, Cisco’s Chuck Robbins took to the stage at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colorado, to talk about how he’s changed the company.
This week is Cisco’s annual massive customer conference in Las Vegas. Robbins flew in to Aspen for the interview in the morning and is flying back to Vegas for lunch.
He’s been so busy, in fact, that when Fortune’s Andrew Nusca reminded him on stage that he’s been in charge for a year, he joked: “Sure it’s not 5?”
Still, he addressed the progress he’s made so far.
Cisco made 15 acquisitions last year, mostly in cloud, security, Internet of Things, analytics, all future areas that he’s moving Cisco into.
His marquee acquisition was clearly Internet of Things company Jasper Technologies, which runs a network for machines. Robbins paid $1.4 billion for Jasper and he crowed about its success, saying it hosts 31 million connected devices and is adding a million more a month. Plus, 5,000 enterprise companies have written apps for Jasper with 120 new customers every month, he said.
He also gave some concrete examples to explain how the Internet of Things is more than a buzzword. For instance, in Q1 of 2016, more vehicles were added to the Internet than phones, he said. Another example is an elevator maker bringing a million elevators onto the internet, mostly to monitor maintenance issues.
“Your not going to connect billions of devices by 2020 if we’re not a part of it,” Robbins said, citing Cisco’s own research.
But he also joked that he’d even though he’d love it if “every customer wakes up and says, ‘I just can’t wait to buy a router!’ But it just doesn’t happen that way,” he said.
That’s why he’s looking for new ways to solve their tech problems, which will include selling them routers and cloud services.
For instance, he’s also launched of a bunch of new products with a cloud/SaaS model, including the Tetration Analytics Platform, a machine learning app which analyses data as it travels over the a network looking for hackers and usage info and a bunch of security products.
Robbins said that building smarter, machine learning security apps that watch the network is not only a “tremendous opportunity for Cisco, it’s also our obligation.”
Sick of being asked about the software threat
On the flip side, he’s clearly pretty sick of people asking him about the “white box” threat and the threat from new software called software-defined networking. SDN completely changes the way networks are built using software and less-expensive network equipment.
When asked, he shot back: “Our gross margin on our products are higher they have been in 2 to 3 years.”
“Software is not going to replace hardware,” he added. “The Internet, every day, runs on high performance silicon,” and he said that no one will ever write software to replace that.
On the other hand, the big internet companies have also been creating their own network equipment, led by Facebook, who had built new networking products and are giving the designs away for free.
He said he recognised they were doing that, and insists that Cisco is now “working with them” to supply the kind of highly automated network they need.
Finally, he also alluded to the fact that Cisco’s long-time rock star engineers recently publicly quit.
“We’ve gone through a lot of change in the last year,” he said.
“You have to be incredibly honest with yourself about the things that made you great in the past. Which things will make you great in future? Which hold you back?” He added that he’s been focused on putting together “the right team” that’s energised by his strategy and is “aligned and works well together.”
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