How Cisco's CTO Got Her Cloud Game On

March 2, 2011

By samdizzy

When Padmasree Warrior joined Cisco Systems as chief technology officer a bit more than two years ago, CEO John Chambers had a special assignment for her. Chambers’ mandate to Warrior: Develop a cloud computing strategy. Fast forward to this week’s Cisco Partner Summit 2011 in New Orleans, and Warrior (pictured) sounds pretty confident about Cisco’s cloud progress.

During a press briefing that ended about ten minutes ago, Warrior described how Cisco started to develop a cloud strategy and ultimately launched the Cisco Cloud Partner Program this week. (See TalkinCloud FastChat Video, left.) The story starts a bit more than two years ago, when Warrior formed a working group within Cisco. It included about 15 to 20 people who met on weekends and evenings to whiteboard viewpoints and begin to sketch some key ideas. The group explored potential emerging applications and the role of the network in the cloud.

Padmasree Warrior Cisco Systems CTO

Sometime around the time Cisco unveiled its UCS (Unified Computing System) strategy (March 2009), Warrior made an operating committee presentation to Chambers and other Cisco leaders. Her recommendation: Make cloud a huge priority, to ensure Cisco would evolve its networking, security, policy and converged infrastructure efforts accordingly.

By May 2010, Cisco partnered up with EMC and VMware to launch VCE — joint venture that aims to accelerate the proliferation of virtualization and private clouds. VCE is led by former Compaq CEO Michael Capellas (who predicts cloud will be the dominant IT architecture within 18 months). In June 2010, Cisco named Lew Tucker as its Cloud CTO, reporting to Warrior. Tucker previously had been CTO and VP of cloud computing at Sun Microsystems.

Compete or Cooperate with Partners?

Overall, Warrior says she’d give Cisco solid grades for the company’s progress on the cloud computing front. She notes that Cisco started evangelizing private clouds before the term went mainstream. And Warrior  points out the cloud strategy is completely channel centric — Cisco has no plans to build its own, massive public cloud data centers.

“We debated whether we should be a cloud provider,” conceded Warrior. “In some cases we have hosted offerings like WebEx and FlipShare. But we opened up WebEx to partners. At the end we concluded our strength is in enabling others. We felt if we became a cloud provider we’d compete with our partner community and service providers. That doesn’t play to our strengths.”

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