Cisco's cloud strategy: Be the glue between businesses

Instead of gunning for Amazon's throne with its new cloud venture, Cisco hopes to fill the gaps between other companies and their clouds

What exactly has Cisco Systems bought with its $1 billion investment in global cloud infrastructure? From the look of it, the spaces between other companies where cloud providers typically don't venture.

From the outside, Cisco's plan looks like a conventional move by a big-name vendor into the cloud space. There's a big price tag being thrown around (the aforementioned $1 billion); there's the use of a name-brand platform of one kind or another, OpenStack in this case; and there's a slew of claims so, well, nebulous they could mean anything without a little more meat on their bones.

Cisco describes the new project as "the world's largest global Intercloud -- a network of clouds" designed to "deliver a new enterprise-class portfolio of cloud IT services for businesses, service providers, and resellers." According to the company, it will be "architected for the Internet of Everything, with a distributed network and security architecture designed for high-value application workloads, real-time analytics, 'near infinite' scalability, and full compliance with local data sovereignty laws."

The first detail worth noting is what Cisco has itself said it isn't trying to do. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Rob Lloyd, Cisco president of development and sales, claimed this didn't mean Cisco was planning "to go head-to-head with Amazon." The Journal says the plan is "to sell its cloud services to telecom companies that will then use them in a package of Internet-based services the companies already sell to others."

The picture also becomes a little clearer in light of the general flavor and tenor of the the companies Cisco says it has lined up as partners. Among them are Australian ISP Telstra, technology distributor Ingram Micro, and IT consulting firm Wipro Ltd. The names in the roster all hint at how Cisco's ambition here isn't to provide a substrate for business, so to speak, but more to be a builder of connective tissue and glue for the spaces between businesses. That fits in well with Cisco's general ambitions -- what's a networking company for, after all, but to help hook systems together? -- and falls in line with the way the company has been trying to reshape itself as a software-and-services company.

One name that stands out in particular in the list of Cisco's partners -- and might provide further clues toward what Cisco's really attempting here -- is Canopy. Launched in 2012 as the result of a three-way team-up between EMC, VMware, and French IT services outfit Atos, Canopy's line of trade has been in selling business apps to enterprises via an app store model, but it's also planned to offer its own PaaS and cloud services through resellers, with Cisco presumably being the latest and greatest of the bunch.

It's wise for Cisco to be looking in such different directions, in light of how its core network hardware business has flattened out. Cisco is barely growing despite data centers and the cloud experiencing explosive growth, and despite new offerings like its "Internet of everything" router and its Application-Centered Infrastructure initiative. Pressure from multiple directions, not just other vendors but the likes of Open Compute Project, is making it tougher for Cisco to monetize its legacy proprietary offerings.

Rather than go head-on with the likes of Amazon -- and Google, Microsoft, IBM, and just about everyone else out there these days -- Cisco is seeking out a niche where it can actually deliver based on its strengths, and not one where it'll merely be compensating for its weaknesses.

This story, "Cisco's cloud strategy: Be the glue between businesses," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.