Cisco ET&I & Cloud Native Security - Pushing boundaries & making bold bets

Ran Ilany
Ran Ilany

Tuesday, February 1st, 2022

Successful enterprises are good at what they do – so good, in fact, that it can become difficult for them to embrace new ideas. Instead, many choose to rest on the laurels of their existing products and services – Usually their successful products, their cash cows.

To be clear, that’s a good problem to have. Being successful enough that you don’t need to reinvent yourself constantly isn’t exactly a bad thing.

But, when it comes down to it, a lack of continuous innovation is still a problem - you could completely miss the next big innovation. Great product and service lines may serve a business for a while. But sooner or later, you need to make some bets and take some calculated risks if you want to stay at the top of the market.

That’s exactly why Cisco’s Emerging Technology and Incubation (ET&I) was established. As a subsection of Cisco that focuses on developing and testing bold new products and concepts – even if they are risky and hardly guaranteed to succeed – ET&I injects an entrepreneurial spirit into Cisco’s enterprise culture.

Here’s a breakdown of how ET&I works, what it’s currently working on, and what you can expect from the group going forward.

What Cisco ET&I does

Our purpose is simple: We experiment with new technological ideas – especially in areas like cloud native security, application networking, application security, and AI/ML – with the ultimate goal of evolving them into business products or services.

We call these ideas “Bold Bets,” because that’s exactly what they are: Bets that may or may not pay off. And while we obviously hope they will succeed – and will either help us enter into new markets, or reinforce its position in existing ones – it’s also totally fine if they don’t. After all, an entrepreneurial mindset – which means the willingness to try new things, fail and try again – is key to creating a new business venture.

To put this another way, you could say that we are basically a startup inside an enterprise. Startup businesses are accustomed to constant experimentation and pivots. Enterprises tend not to be. By making a purposeful investment in entrepreneurialism, we are able to combine the stability of an enterprise with the nimbleness of a startup.

ET&I successes: Cloud-native security

If it sounds like we’re just blowing smoke here, let’s consider the successes that we have had already scored to date:

  • Kubernetes security: ET&I played a leading role in bringing Portshift’s Kubernetes and container security technology to the enterprise market by furthering its development across threats and vulnerabilities within containers and cloud-native application security.

  • API visibility: ET&I was also behind Cisco’s investment in shifting API Security to the left via APIClarity, an open source API visibility and security tool allowing you to analyze API traffic and identify potential risks. This is a much-needed tool given the increase in API related vulnerabilities recorded in the CVE database.

apiclarity-dashboard

Although ET&I remains a relatively new venture, these wins show that our model is already paying off. This unique approach has allowed Cisco – a company that was not previously known as a big name in the world of cloud-native & microservices security – to bring cutting-edge Kubernetes and API security tools to market.

The life of an idea at ET&I

Part of the reason we have been able to score successes like these is that we’ve systematized the process of turning interesting ideas into business realities.

Identifying ideas

Our process starts by identifying a bucket of ideas. We’re pretty open-ended on this front; the ideas could involve infrastructure or applications, and they could target either vertical or horizontal markets.

The only thing that really matters is that the ideas are innovative, and promise to solve problems no one has solved before – even if the concepts haven’t yet been developed to the point that they are business-ready.

Researching the problem

From there, we figure out the specific problem the market needs to solve. We work with stakeholders to validate our assumptions, and gain clarity on whether a new idea could actually solve the issues facing businesses in that particular area.

Validate a business model

Once we know both a problem and a potential solution exist, we work to develop a business model that will allow organizations to apply the solution to the problem in a practical way. This is critical because it’s one thing to develop a solution to a problem; it’s another to do it in a way that is viable from a business perspective.

The business proposal:

The process of getting an idea validated and considered for a “venture” can be fun, or daunting, depending on your perspective. Every “Bold Bet” submitted requires vetting in front of a large audience. The key engineers or business leaders associated with the project will present in a 20 minute forum, in front of over 100 other Cisco employees, including executives. Feedback will be on the spot, both verbally and through a webex teamspace. Those ideas that are promising enough to move forward will have continued executive visibility, while others will be given suggestions on how to improve or necessary additional market research.

After proposing a business model, we test and validate it to ensure it actually works in the real world. For example, if we identify a promising venture in the AI/ML market, our validation efforts would include confirming that the technology is more than just another flashy AI/ML product. We’d ensure that it drives bottom-line value, and that companies would be willing to pay for it over the long term.

We accomplish this by engaging with “Design Partners” which are companies that have an interest in a particular area. Design Partners are willing to provide feedback on our development plans, and test solutions in a non-production environment. It can often be a balancing act to find a Design Partner that will be willing to work with us while the product is being developed, versus going out and buying an alternative solution. The upside for the Design Partner is that a solution is built for them that meets many of their specific requirements. Companies may sign up to be a Design Partner here.

What’s next: Cloud-native security, microservices and beyond

We never rule out an idea or market. But for the time being, our key areas of focus include:

  • Cloud-native security: We want to find even more ways to help organizations secure microservices, containers, Kubernetes, and other types of complex infrastructure they rely on today.

  • Cloud-native observability: Businesses also need new ways to figure out what is happening inside complex, cloud-native environments. We are on the hunt for technology to help them do that.

  • Cutting-edge AI/ML: In a market that is increasingly flooded with AI/ML ventures, we’re separating wheat from chaff to identify promising projects that will stand out from the crowd.

As we continue to explore these areas, we remain committed to building and evolving our relationships with developers via a bottom-up approach. Our overarching goal is to bridge the gap separating good ideas from business realities, and we can’t do that without forging excellent relationships with the developers who implement those ideas. This is achieved by working together towards mutual goals, ongoing engagement through online tools (Thanks technology!), and treating them as an extension of our own team.

Conclusion

In short, ET&I aims to change the game when it comes to cloud native security & observability, application networking, and AI/ML development. Sometimes, large organizations can be complacent and focus only on established business divisions and products – It’s time for that to change, now!

By focusing on new product development in a start-up environment, we can develop exciting new ideas in a way which would otherwise not have been possible! This enables us to move forward, making bold bets on the future of cloud native security, bringing cutting-edge products and services to market which have a profound impact on enterprises around the globe.

If you like experimenting with cutting-edge technology while also enjoying the stability of working for an enterprise, good news: We’re hiring! Learn more here about joining our team.