Attending Cisco's partner summit this week has felt a bit like watching The Truman Show for the first time. (I should clarify, for any members of Cisco's legal or public relations team that may be reading, that I don't mean to imply it has been a terrifying dystopian vision of the effects of big-brother society.)
To illustrate what I mean, let me take you back 16 years. In my early and mid teens I was a huge Jim Carrey fan (and I don't mind admitting that I remain so to this day). My friends and I howled with laughter at genre classics like the Ace Ventura films, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, and even the forgettable Liar, Liar and the criminally underappreciated Cable Guy.
You knew what you were getting with Carrey: a cornucopia of funny faces, exemplary physical comedy and a generous portion of impeccably delivered toilet humour-based one liners. The 14-year-old me loved him for it, but he typically found a less unreservedly appreciative audience among film critics.
Then a funny thing happened. He starred in The Truman Show and suddenly a host of people who (wrongly) found Ace Ventura puerile and charmless were queuing up to heap plaudits on the film and his performance.
Much like screwball-era Carrey, for many years you knew where you were with Cisco. They made products - most famously networking - and then they created lots and lots of badges and channel programmes and rebate structures for the channel to sell them. This year is my fourth partner summit and the first three were marked by an avalanche of meat-and-potatoes channel announcements.
Cisco has long had something of a reputation for having one of the more, shall we say, intricate partner frameworks for resellers to work within. And, reporting from the last three conferences, I did not find this hard to believe; in each case new channel programmes and certifications were launched, on average, at a rate of about one every ten minutes, for three days non-stop.
This year has been far different. The glut of programme launches has not been served up. The patchwork of new badges has not materialised. So what am I to report on?
Well, perhaps this: the fact that it feels like a crucial time in Cisco's (comparatively) long history. A turning point. A Truman Show moment, if you will.
The theory of everything
Within the first five minutes of John Chambers' opening keynote this much was evident: Cisco wants to be taken seriously. His stated aim is to make his company not just the world's biggest networking, telecoms or even datacentre player, but its largest IT firm full stop. Given that he believes that three of the existing top five will have fallen by the wayside within five years, the odds are not stacked in his favour.
But you cannot doubt how earnest or sincere his intentions are. For a channel hack used to writing about margins, mergers and management mishaps, it can be a bit hard to know what to make of Chambers' bold vision of ‘the internet of everything'. (And they really do mean everything - even donkeys and stalks of corn will become connected devices. Apparently.) But, if Chambers' prediction of imminent "brutal consolidation" among the world's leading vendors is right, we won't have to wait too long to know whether all Cisco's strategising has paid dividends and it does, indeed, become the standard-bearer for the entire IT industry.
Meanwhile I am delighted to report that, following The Truman Show, Carrey became the kind of actor who could make such diverse, but equally brilliant, films as The Grinch, Me, Myself and Irene, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I look forward, with interest, to reporting on whether Cisco has equal success in achieving its ambitious aims.
Sam Trendall is special projects editor at CRN
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