Scott Harrell, SVP of Product Management for Enterprise Networking, thrives on change, and credits that trait for his 16-year career trajectory at Cisco. In his current role, Scott has been responsible for the recent launch of The Network. Intuitive. Focus Magazine recently sat down with Scott to talk about his career and why he believes Cisco’s new Digital Network Architecture will radically change the network, making it more agile, intelligent, and secure.
What keeps you excited coming into work every day?
It’s important to me to be a part of something where I can make an impact. Cisco has driven the evolution of the network for more than 30 years by advancing technology, pushing the boundaries, and solving massive customer problems as the technology industry evolves. Today, we’re not just changing networks — we’re fundamentally redesigning what they can do. The opportunity to be a part of it and to do it at a scale you can’t do anywhere else, is very exciting.
You also can’t beat the culture at Cisco. It’s awesome and it’s that culture that allows me to constantly reinvent myself – to do new things and challenge myself. I’ve spent time in product management, led software and hardware engineering teams, and moved from networking to security and back to networking. Each one of those assignments was a completely different type of challenge and stretched me in new ways. It’s a big reason why I’m still excited to come into work every day, 16-years after I first started at Cisco.
How do you explain to your friends and family what you do?
“We’re not a social media company, a car ride service, or infrastructure as a service company, but we are the company that makes these companies possible.”Explaining what we do can be challenging because the majority of what we do is behind the scenes and not something my family or friends touch or interact with on a daily basis. We’re not a social media company, a car ride service, or infrastructure as a service company, but we are the company that makes these companies possible. Secure connectivity is foundational to today’s technology innovation cycle. I focus on this aspect. The better job we do at Cisco, the better all these technologies that are now omnipresent in our personal and professional lives get.
Focus Magazine: Can you tell us about the radical revolution Cisco’s enterprise networking is undergoing?
Scott Harrell: This is about how we help customers make their network work more secure and more agile as the world moves to the cloud, and more IoT devices come online. We can help manage this new environment in a way that offers customers significant savings from an operations point of view through dramatic increases in the level of automation and fidelity of analytics, enabling the network operators to deliver more sophisticated and higher quality outcomes for their businesses.
Utilizing DNA Center customers can now program and manage their network holistically – they no longer have to go device by device manually. Technology is changing more often, and with pervasive automation and analytics we can help them deal with the frequency of changes by simplifying the operations of the network. We are delivering incredible changes at every level of the products from the operating system, to the devices, to the orchestration layer, to the UI, and to the analytics.
This simplification of the base network enables us to help customers provide sophisticated outcomes such as enhanced security. Security is actually an area of huge positive impact and a great example of the power of this launch. We can make customers much more secure by providing very granular segmentation and better security analytics.
For example, when someone comes into a hotel, you give him or her a key to their room, not a key to every other room in the hotel. Unfortunately, the interior of most networks today are not this way. They are very open. Once attackers get inside a network, they often have an ability to move unchecked across the network from device to device. Devices and users should be segmented from each other in the network, disabling the ability to talk to each other and thus dramatically limiting the ability attackers and their malware to move laterally across your network.
For instance, a lightbulb doesn’t need to talk to another lightbulb or to a user’s laptop on your network or to any of your servers with valuable intellectual property. Through automation, we dramatically simplify the campus and access networks, which then allows more sophisticated solutions to be deployed at scale.
On the security analytics side, we focused on a very, very difficult problem, which is the tradeoff between privacy and security. Many applications are now encrypted and when that happens, enterprises can lose visibility to the traffic for that user or application which they may need for security reasons. This is a major issue. Attackers are leveraging encryption for malware communications with increased frequency. When an attacker encrypts traffic, it can allow them to bypass security detection tools, at the perimeter of your network.
“We’ve announced something that nobody else in the market can do; we have the ability to understand whether there’s malicious traffic inside of encrypted traffic without decrypting it.”But, as part of this launch, we’ve announced something that nobody else in the market can do; we have the ability to understand whether there’s malicious traffic inside of encrypted traffic without decrypting it. This provides security without trading off the end user’s privacy since the traffic is never decrypted. Only Cisco can do this because we’re the world’s best security vendor and the world’s best networking vendor.
Focus Magazine: What does it feel like to be part of such a seismic shift that you and your team have undertaken?
Scott Harrell: I feel very lucky because I came back into this business last November. I’m intersecting this change at an incredible time. An amazing amount of this vision and architectural thought process was driven by the team that was already here, and people like Ravi Chandrasekaran of the engineering side and his team. I walked in and was stunned by the vision of what they were trying to bring onto the market and was really excited by the sheer scope of it. It just makes me feel lucky to come back into the networking business at this time. You don’t often get to disrupt an industry this big, and that’s what we’re doing, so that’s tremendously fun. What is also exciting is that this is really just the start, with the new foundational elements we are delivering like DNA Center, we can do a lot of insanely cool and incredible stuff.
Focus Magazine: What advice do you give to new graduates in business and science?
“You don’t often get to disrupt an industry this big, and that’s what we’re doing.”Scott Harrell: I started at Cisco as an intern, so it is possible to build and have a very successful career here. One thing that accelerated my career was being willing to make myself extremely uncomfortable, and frankly, taking some jobs I didn’t know I would be able to succeed in. I learned more by stretching myself into those jobs and making sure I knew I could add some value, while at the same time recognizing I could potentially fail in a new job.
I would encourage others to do that. At Cisco, you own your career. You can move around this company. You can challenge yourself in new ways. Learn your job and become an expert at it, but don’t be afraid to leap somewhere else inside of Cisco. There’s opportunity – you just have to go out and seek it.
I would also say that Cisco and the world at large is full of very smart people. Just recognize that there is always someone who’s smarter than you are, and that’s actually a great thing. Learn from them, help them become very successful, and then build upon that success.
Focus Magazine: What do you do in what little off time you have.
Scott Harrell: My number one priority outside of work is spending time with my family. I have three wonderful kids and a beautiful wife. I tend to prioritize things that can be done with them, whether it’s hiking, camping, riding bikes, skiing, or simply going to the movies. When not with them I also like to play golf.
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