Cisco Live: Tackling the pandemic, racism, and technological challenges

For the first time in 30 years, Cisco Live was held virtually, attracting more than 120,000 attendees. Kicking things off, as usual, was chief executive officer Chuck Robbins. In January, the world entered into a whole new decade with a sense of optimism for the future and new challenges to overcome, Robbins reminded everyone. The novel coronavirus and the subsequent lockdowns have crammed several years worth of digital transformation into a few months, and Robbins was adamant that the “new normal” will include a lot more video and a lot less travel.

The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks, “and so many more before them” are yet another ugly reminder of the systemic racism still present in society, Robbins continued.

“It is clear to me that our notions of corporate social responsibility, advocacy or even the most recent notion of stakeholder capitalism simply aren’t doing enough to care for our world,” he said in a separate statement. “The successive battles of Covid-19, the resulting economic contraction and job losses, and our own reckoning with deep-rooted systemic racism and bigotry have brought to light centuries of inequality, injustice, and fragility underpinning our society for far too long.”

Cisco chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins during his opening keynote this week during the virtual Cisco Live. Source: Cisco.

Cisco had previously announced spending $50 million on helping homeless people in Silicon Valley and a further $225 million on fighting the effects of the virus. That commitment increased to half a billion dollars on Tuesday. This is on top of the recent donation of $5 million to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Black Lives Matter and other organizations fighting racism and discrimination.

“We started out a new decade with hope,” Robbins said during his keynote. “And we never imagined that in June we would have experienced what we’ve experienced this year … And while 2020 has brought a lot of pain, a lot of sadness, a lot of anger, I do believe that we can take the setbacks and turn them into progress. We can take the challenges, turn them into opportunity, and take some of the hate that we’ve seen in the world and turn it into hope because we believe in what’s possible.”

Webex updates

Cisco’s video conferencing business Webex reported 14 billion meeting minutes in March 2020. That’s more than double the total meeting minutes reported for January 2020. Today, Cisco says that the Webex platform is seeing more than triple its normal volume.

Joining Robbins on stage – on another stage, to be exact, somewhere in San Jose – was Javed Khan, vice-president and general manager of Cisco’s Collaboration Group.

The Webex Desk Pro was one of the devices that got some airtime this week during Cisco Live. The 27-inch device features a 4K touchscreen with a USB-C connection, is web-app enabled, and works not only with Webex but with any conferencing service – including Microsoft. Source: Cisco.

“We’re on the other side of the most amazing work from home experiment the world has ever seen,” Khan said. “Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine having to build a product that would need to support the entire business world at the same time.”

Webex Meetings is now part of a product family that includes Cisco’s response to Slack and Microsoft Teams, Webex Teams. In addition to scaling the platform to meet exploding demand, Khan said Cisco is extending its data loss prevention retention, Legal Hold and eDiscovery to Webex Meetings. It’s also expanding the platform’s end-to-end encryption options to include AES 256 Bit encryption with GCM mode.



Webex Teams is integrating with Box for heavy-duty file sharing needs. Cisco says Box content is accessible and shareable from within Teams and it doesn’t index the shared content on the platform. The only metadata that is stored by Teams – Webex Teams, sorry that still sounds weird sometimes – is the file name and file type. Khan took a few shots at Zoom, suggesting the platform was the ideal platform for cocktail hours. Serious users, such as the news anchors and government officials, examples that flashed on the screen while he spoke, stuck with the grandaddy of videoconferencing software, he said.

CAMH shares its story

Healthcare organizations unfamiliar with telemedicine and virtual care got a crash course on both in recent months, including the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. The largest mental health and addictions academic hospital in Canada expanded virtual consultations to 3,000 per month since March, representing a roughly 750 per cent increase. Prior to this year, CAMH was conducting virtual care for more than 3,000 patients from over 550 communities across Ontario – in one year.

Dr. Damian Jankowicz, CIO for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health during Cisco’s CIO roundtable at Cisco Live.

The need to expand CAMH’s virtual capabilities was obvious for years, indicated Dr. Damian Jankowicz. “Many of our staff and clients have been begging for more virtual,” he said during a CIO roundtable that also featured Link Alander, CIO of Lone Star College, one of the largest community colleges in the U.S. But this of course, is easier said than done, and one of the biggest challenges coming out of the gate, according to Jankowicz, was helping patients who hadn’t done virtual care before getting set up.

“We have patients with various skill levels around technology. Some people don’t even have a private place to have a private care visit virtually,” he explained. There were also plenty of challenges internally, he noted, but they existed because the work of clinicians can’t be hindered with tedious software updates or lengthy user manuals. “We’re not a technology company, and everything we do has to be in lock-step with clinicians. New applications and solutions have to be super responsive.”

Jankowicz said some clinicians have started to describe Webex as their virtual PPE. “I’ve been told many times that working through Webex makes clinicians feel safe.”

New networking capabilities

Cisco also rolled out updates for Cisco SD-WAN, including cloud-native security through the integration with Cisco Umbrella, to protect enterprises against web attacks stemming from the use of more SaaS applications and the rise of remote work. It’s also introducing Cisco User-Defined Networks, allowing IT staff to provide end-users some control of their own wireless network through Cisco DNA Center, the company’s virtual network and command centre.

DNA Spaces Right Now shows how many people are using businesses’ facilities at the moment. Source: Cisco

Cisco DNA is also introducing Spaces for Return to Business, a real-time and historical analysis tool to Cisco DNA. As governments slowly open up their economies and businesses make their way back into the office, the solution is meant to help them monitor workspaces to maintain social distancing guidelines.

Virtual selfies with the boss

Susie Wee, vice-president and CTO of DevNet at Cisco, had to watch the event from her home this year. This Tweet kickstarted a chain of several virtual selfies with Robbins.


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