I’ve been contemplating the news from Cisco this week on Tuesday – the departure of MPLS.
For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about here, Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain, Luca Cafiero and Soni Jiandani (“M”, “P”, “L”, “S”) were a legendary part of the Cisco story (and made for a handy self-referential acronym for those in the networking biz).
Every high tech company has an innovation engine (usually more than one). At EMC, one innovation engine we use over and over again is EMC Ventures in addition to organic R&D. Cisco used MPLS spin-out/spin-ins multiple times with great effect.
Many people noted the role of MPLS in Insieme (Nexus 9000 and ACI) and Project California (UCS, Nexus 1000v, Nexus 5000, Nexus 6000), but I think that misses important history.
People forget that back in the day, the networking business was much more fragmented – 3COM, Bay Networks, Cabletron and many, many others. MPLS came to Cisco through the acquisition of Cresendo Networks – which ultimately resulted in the Catalyst family of switches, surely one of the most successful IT products ever, and the beginning of the dominance of Cisco, and the beginning of a long era.
But – they did it again, and again, and again. Andiamo became the MDS family, and expanded Cisco into the storage networking domain. Project California (where the foursome was joined by Ed Bougnion, who was one of the VMware co-founders) became UCS/N5K/N6K, and expanded Cisco into the server domain. Insieme became Cisco 9K – both a response (and beginning of a broadside) to the wave of 25/40/50/100Gbe Spine-Leaf competitors, but also the platform for ACI.
I’ve interacted with them over the years, and they are fascinating human beings – representing the fierce intelligence, heart, soul and muscles necessary to break down walls and innovate, and lead the teams that do the innovation. I’ll never forget visiting the offices of the Project California team early in the story. I’ll never forget my interactions with Ed. I’ll never forget the sharp insight of Mario in the Cisco broadroom at critical parts of the Cisco/EMC story. I’ll never forget going on sales calls with Soni.
People love a “character”, and “characters” can become “caricatures”, and “stories” never capture the whole story.
Each of those stories isn’t just an MPLS story – but a story of hundreds of engineers, marketing, sales, operations teams. Each of those stories have preludes and epilogues. Each of those stories created “corollary” stories, “tributaries” that became huge rivers of their own. This effect is what I call “impact radius” which is a way to visualize the impact that individuals can have – and MPLS had a big “impact radius”.
But… Each of those stories is a critical chapter of the Cisco story, but still only chapters in the book. Each of those incredible innovations drove Cisco and the industry forward – but are not the sole part of Cisco’s innovation machinery.
Whenever a big change occurs, people talk about the end of an era. It’s accurate, but not complete. The end of an era is by definition the marker that enables the start of a new era.
As Chuck Robbins stepped into his role at Cisco, he clearly has been looking “up” into the domains of IoT, doubling down on Cloud Management Platforms. People that think Cisco is going to double down in infrastructure I think are misreading his dream. It marked the end of an era, and the start of a new one.
When Joe steps out of his role at EMC, and EMC becomes part of Dell Technologies – it’s will mark the end of an era. It’s also the beginning of a new one, and I’m dreaming of the future we will create together with Michael Dell. It will be something where new legends and new stories are created.
When Ballmer stepped out of his role at Microsoft – it was the end of an era. It was also the beginning of a new one, and you can “feel” an energized and ascendant Microsoft working to redefine themselves.
As a student of people, politics, organizations – I’m looking for the patterns. Heck, in a much, much smaller way – as move from leading EMC SEs to leading our Converged Platform business, it’s the “end of the ‘Chad’ era” in the SE org, and the beginning of a new one.
It’s no different than life in general. Change is at the root of creative destruction and creation. The end of an era is by definition needed for the creation of something new. It can end of well, it can end up badly – but it’s a change.
When holes are created, it create opportunities for many, many others to step up, step in, and create new things.
Pessimists look at the hole and mourn the past, and visualize a smaller future. They struggle to imagine a future that is different than the past. They tend to create the future they visualize.
Optimists look at the hole and celebrate the past, and dream of the possibilities for the future. They simply cannot imagine a future that is a reflection of the past, but is instead different. They tend to create the future they dream of.
Here’s to dreaming big.
Here’s to the achievements of MPLS, of Joe Tucci, of all the great leaders of the past.
Here’s to dreaming of the possibilities latent in the end of eras :-)
It’s a new era!