Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Networking Q&A With Vikas Butaney at Cisco: Enterprise, Edge, and IoT Connectivity

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The networking market is broad and evolving at a rapid pace. It can be challenging to keep up with the latest trends and developments across networking, including the Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing, especially as networking grows to meet the challenges of greater global connectivity.

Cisco is one of the top leaders across the networking industry, due to its agile, comprehensive portfolio of networking solutions and pioneering approach to future road maps. 

Read below to learn about top networking and IoT trends and expert insights from Vikas Butaney, chief product officer and VP/GM for Cisco IoT:

Vikas Butaney Vikas Butaney Headshot

Butaney sets the business and engineering strategy for solutions across the IoT portfolio. Vikas engages closely with customers across key industries, like manufacturing, transportation, utilities, and the public sector, as they transform into digital businesses by leveraging Cisco IoT technologies.

Vikas has global responsibility for product strategy, road maps, and partnerships for the Cisco IoT portfolio, including edge compute, IoT security, and industrial IoT (IIoT) networking. His team of developers, product managers, technical marketers, and business development professionals has enabled over 70,000 enterprise IoT deployments.

More on the networking market: The Networking Market

Networking Q&A

Networking as a Career

Datamation: How did you first get started in or develop an interest in networking?

Butaney: My master’s thesis was to extend the reach of SONET networks with optical amplifiers. When I graduated, WWW and the internet were just getting mainstreamed with Netscape going public. IP networks were the foundation for how businesses and schools were starting to communicate.

Datamation: What are your primary responsibilities in your current role?

Butaney: I am primarily responsible for leading the global Cisco IoT Business Unit that designs, builds, delivers the industry-leading IIoT Networking & Security Portfolio. I focus on accelerating partnerships with industrial and GTM companies to deliver innovation to IT and operational buyers.

Datamation: What makes Cisco a unique place to work?

Butaney: Cisco has successfully led market transitions over the last 30+ years in the telecommunications industry, as we continue to work at the leading technology edge. Our market global scale, trust of customers and partners, globally combined with technology expertise, are impossible to top. Cisco is also an incredible example of a company that strives to make the world a better place — Cisco is consistently recognized as the top or one of the top places to work in the world. Cisco took the top slot in the 2021 Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

More on Cisco: Cisco: Networking Portfolio Review

Developing a Strong Networking Strategy

Datamation: What sets Cisco’s networking solutions or approach apart from the competition?

Butaney: At Cisco, we talk about the network in a different way — from the enterprise to the edge. And it’s at that edge of the network where you find Cisco IoT. Customers are looking for agility to leverage IT across their businesses. Places like the utility grid, manufacturing floor, high-speed rail, intersections, and ports, to name a few. Cisco IoT has the purpose-built hardware and software to perform in those areas and management tools.

What sets us apart is that we are enabling our vast customer base to extend their knowledge and investments in Cisco into those operational spaces that have particularly been in the spotlight over the last few years with the global pandemic.

Beyond the networking heritage that comes with Cisco IoT, we’re also delivering new levels of security at scale. IoT implementations often number in the thousands of devices, in harsh environments that often have not changed for decades. And the first step is often to just get visibility into what is in those environments. 

Datamation: What do you think makes a networking solution or service successful?

Butaney: At the end of the day, it’s about our customers seeing value. What improvements are they able to make in the way they deliver their products or services? How are they providing better customer service or experiences? How are they being more efficient and profitable in their businesses? 

Datamation: What is the biggest networking mistake that you see enterprises making?

Butaney: IoT sits at the intersection of the IT world and the operational world. As industries like manufacturing, utilities, and others modernize and automate their business, it’s critical for both IT and operations to be talking to each other. Businesses need to leverage the best of IT and their knowledge to roll out security and scale. They also need the best of the operational world that knows their processes, products, and the criticality of uptime — not just the network but the system, the grid, the manufacturing line, etc.

Datamation: How can companies develop a strong networking infrastructure that meets their users’ and administrators’ needs?

Butaney: In the case of IoT, a strong networking infrastructure comes with a collaboration between IT and operational technology (OT). OT is in many cases responsible for the revenue of the company (manufacturing), front lines of commerce (air, ports, trains), and daily lives of citizens (intersections, roadways, transportation). Tight alignment between these two areas of the business is critical to understanding the requirements for success.

One important consideration is the tools that different personas will use to manage and interact with the network. There are different requirements/experience levels between IT teams and OT teams. So, the tools need to be valuable and simple for both areas.

More on cybersecurity: Cybersecurity Market

Trends in Networking

Datamation: What do you think are some of the top trends in networking right now?

Butaney: Cybersecurity has never been more important given all of the places that the IoT network touches — like utilities, water, manufacturing, ports — all critical industries that we rely upon to power our economy. OT systems in these critical industries often run on aging software and obsolete hardware, which makes the networks vulnerable to attacks. It will become increasingly important for OT and IT to work closer together to scale, secure, and bring reliability to the systems.

Data and ML/AI are critical for the automation that these industries I’ve mentioned are seeking. We’re using data to remotely monitor, manage, and remotely operate — like mines and ports — and remotely make decisions in the future as we move toward AI.

Connectivity options: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E, and even Wi-Fi 7, fiber, etc. are growing quickly. There are so many options and businesses have to balance between cost and requirements.

Datamation: What do you think we’ll see more of in the networking space in the next 5-10 years? What areas will grow the most over the next decade?

Butaney: We’ll see huge growth of digitization in these critical industries. Infrastructure is aging and investments must be made to modernize and prepare them for the future. This requires the skills of IT to leverage existing networks and training and skills of OT to reimagine the delivery of the products and services with new capabilities from digitization — real-time data, remote equipment access, etc.

Datamation: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you/your colleagues’/your clients’ approach to networking solutions?

Butaney: IoT has never been so important or relevant. With resources in short supply — both human capital and physical resources — optimizing how we work will be key. The focus has shifted to keeping workers safe and secure and how the network can help with that.

Datamation: As a longtime leader in the networking industry, how has Cisco changed its approach to networking solutions over time?

Butaney: As networking has become foundational to all businesses and facets of our lives, focusing on the experiences and outcomes that networking delivers is huge. We’re focused on creating agility for our customers by using automation, while keeping cybersecurity at the forefront across all architectures. Cisco is also integrating broader use cases to deliver a higher value to the users and IT.

Datamation: What are the biggest factors that are pushing change in the networking market?

Butaney: The biggest factors are the increasing need for holistic security, visibility, and reliability — from the chip to the hardware to the software to the network. The need for business agility is also rapidly accelerating digitization, which has become key to staying competitive. Huge swings in consumer demand, supply chain disruptions, and the increased need for efficiencies and hybrid work/operations are driving organizations to connect their industrial spaces faster than ever.

More networking trends to consider: Top Networking Trends and Developments

An Expert Perspective on the Market

Datamation: How have you seen the networking market change since you first started? How have the technologies, services, conversations, and people changed over time?

Butaney: As networking has matured, it has become critical to business operations — there’s an expectation that it will be there, and it will be performing optimally. Now customers are more focused on outcomes — how to use technology to improve safety, yield, etc. There’s more focus than ever on what the business benefit is.

In operational settings, if you’re in the factory at 1 a.m., and the network goes down, you don’t have time for creative troubleshooting. The technology infrastructure simply needs to deliver consistency and reliability in the service of the business.

This market has progressed from bespoke network design to designs that can scale and are easier to manage.

Datamation: How do you stay knowledgeable about trends in the market? What resources do you like?

Butaney: We’re fortunate here at Cisco IoT to have tens of thousands of customers, and I get to interact with them daily. So while I do read the headlines and participate in conferences, many times hearing my customer’s challenges and plans is one step ahead of the market trend. We’re able to weave that into our products and services to anticipate their business needs

Datamation: How do you like to help or otherwise engage less-experienced networking and tech professionals?

Butaney: One amazing resource that Cisco offers is the Cisco Networking Academy. The program serves students from all backgrounds, experiences, and diverse abilities. Cisco provides the program’s best-in-class curriculum and tools to participating academies for free, along with an industry-leading learning platform, instructor development, student career resources, and more. Nearly three million students attribute obtaining a new job to their participation in Networking Academy.

Additionally, we recently partnered with Rockwell and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to launch the Connected Systems Institute (CSI) in an effort to prepare the manufacturing workforce of the future. CSI is a center of excellence for a global practitioner community that is transforming manufacturing processes. The institute brings together the best of industry and academia to deliver education and research opportunities focused on the unique needs of advanced manufacturing and on facilitating the evolution of the IIoT.

Datamation: Several people are talking about the shortage of qualified talent in the tech world. How are you/your company finding and recruiting qualified candidates for your networking teams?

Butaney: We have a strong university recruiting program across fields. In engineering, we recruit interns with a focus on giving them discrete, challenging projects with demos to develop their technical talent. To retain internal resources, we have a strong talent rotation program inside Cisco as well as a returnship program with a strong focus on women re-entering the workforce. Cisco is also part of OneTen: one million family-sustaining careers for Black talent in America in 10 years.

Find a networking career that works for you: Networking Careers

Outside of Work

Datamation: What do you like to do in your free time outside of work?

Butaney: I love spending time with my wife and three kids, riding my road bike at least three days a week to stay healthy, and trying my hand at cooking a few meals a week to stay humble.

Datamation: If you had to work in any other industry or role, what would it be and why?

Butaney: I enjoy working at the leading edge of technology. Right now, I think the transformation of the electric vehicle (EV) industry is super exciting. 

Datamation: What do you consider the best part of your workday or workweek?

Butaney: Brainstorming with our PM and engineering team on the next phase of innovation we plan in our roadmap and strategy meetings is my favorite part of the workweek.

Datamation: What are you most proud of in your professional and/or personal life?

Butaney: I’m most proud of the ability to combine the power of technology with the GTM activities to deliver innovation to our customers. I have done this over the past 20 years to serve 100K+ customers and drive billions of dollars of business growth.

Read next: Top 10 Enterprise Networking Companies

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