Better Than the Sum of Our Parts



Recovered from

In this episode of the Open at Intel podcast recorded at KubeCon Paris, host Katherine Druckman interviews Isovalent’s Liz Rice and Cisco’s Stephen Augustus just prior to Cisco’s official acquisition of Isovalent and they talk about the future of their respective teams. They discuss the importance of maintaining community integrity post-acquisition and the potential for collaboration and innovation in the open source space. They also touch on the role of AI in enhancing the customer experience and the possibilities for leveraging open source projects within Cisco.

"Both Cilium and eBPF are open source projects and that's not going to change. We've been investing tons of resources, people, talent in working on those projects for years." —Liz Rice



Katherine Druckman: Thank you, Stephen and Liz, for joining me today. You have both been on the podcast separately, and I hope everyone listening will go back and listen to those and I'll link them in the description. But you're here with me today because some interesting stuff has happened since the last time I talked to both of you.

Stephen Augustus: Yeah, I've heard a few things are going on.

Katherine Druckman: I heard a rumor.

Liz Rice: There is a rumor.

Joining Forces


Katherine Druckman: Yeah. Well, I'll just go there. So, Cisco acquired Isovalent.

Stephen Augustus: Yes. Cisco has announced its intent to acquire Isovalent. And that will be coming up very soon, very soon. I think the Cisco team and the Isovalent team are pretty excited about it.  

Liz Rice: At time of recording, we're still not closed, but...

Stephen Augustus: But maybe by the time of release we... who knows, right?

Liz Rice: That would be nice, yeah.

Katherine Druckman: Fingers crossed. So that's an interesting story. What can you tell me?

Stephen Augustus: Yeah, sure. We are bringing together a company of very awesome people. From a personal perspective, I love this. I absolutely love this. I love getting to be a part of some of the acquisition conversation. The folks at Isovalent are veterans in the kernel, networking, cloud native, observability, and security spaces for decades, and a lot of them are my former coworkers and really good friends now. It's cool to see traveling from start-up to start-up to now coming back to being coworkers at Cisco.

Katherine Druckman: That's pretty cool. And how about you? What can you share about your situation?

Liz Rice: I'm really excited about it. I can't really imagine a better place for our team to land. The team is coming along with this incredible knowledge, and I work with so many amazing, talented people and we're going to stay together as a team. This is the point. We go into Cisco's security unit, and our existing direction of travel is super well aligned with what you would imagine Cisco's is going to be doing and Cisco's kind of software business as well as complementing their hardware business.

Stephen Augustus: And maybe we will talk a little bit about where we're positioned.

Aligning Objectives


Katherine Druckman: You started to answer the next question I was going to ask, which is what does the alignment look like? Where do your interests converge?

Stephen Augustus: Yeah, so for context, I work in Outshift, which is the incubation arm for Cisco. And recently we've had a bit of an aggregation of some very cool groups within Cisco. So, I'm part of the CSDI group, our corporate strategy development and incubation. I live in the incubation arm, but my team has global mandates. Cisco Research and the OSPO, the Open Source Program Office within Cisco, we have a global mandate. That means that every now and again we get to work on things like mergers and acquisitions, and we get to have these really great conversations pre-close and post-close about where open source assets and teams may land. In this case, our security business group rolls into security and collab. If you've heard of things like WebEx, the overarching group is both security and collaboration. They very specifically will be landing within Tom Gillis's group, Craig Connors. They're former VMware as well. They've been hanging out together for a while and they're two of the folks that kind of cooked up the idea for Isovalent at Cisco.

Katherine Druckman: Wow. Okay.

Liz Rice: And from Isovalent's point of view, so many people have worked with Stephen before. Thomas Graf, one of our co-founders, has worked at Cisco before. Dan worked with some of these people at VMware before. So, it just made sense.

Stephen Augustus: Sarah.

Liz Rice: Sarah, exactly.

Stephen Augustus:And Duffy. So, it's...

Liz Rice: So, it's bringing together a lot of good... Yeah, exactly. A lot of good people.

Katherine Druckman: That's very cool. The big question that I had on my mind was, what does this mean for, for example, the Cilium and eBPF communities?

Liz Rice: Well, good things. Both Cilium and eBPF are open source projects and that's not going to change. We've been investing tons of resources, people, and talent in working on those projects for years. And now instead of having to go out and raise money from VCs every couple of years, we have the backing of Cisco who is, I think it's fair to say, enthusiastic about open source.

Stephen Augustus: Yeah, we like open source. I think the conversation, whenever the corporate Goliath comes up and says, "Oh, we're doing an acquisition." I know Liz and I talked about this during our Cloud Native Startup fest talk. That's always one of the first questions that you get when you can speak freely. It's “What's going to happen to the open source? Should we be looking for alternatives for these projects?” And no, same business as usual. Business as usual I think with the backing of a company that really cares and is invested in the outcome.

Katherine Druckman: Well, I would think Cisco would place a high value on maintaining the community integrity and all of that of these projects because they're valuable.

Liz Rice: Absolutely.

Stephen Augustus: Yeah. I think when you look at acquisitions, tech and talent are a huge component of this. And as we were doing the announcement call for Isovalent, I think some of our leadership was talking through strategy, I think on the product side. And I came in and I said, "I don't care about the products. I don't care about the products at all because I know these people. I know these people and I know these are some of the most brilliant people in the industry, and I know they have the capability of building anything that you point them at.

Liz Rice: And I think for Dan and Thomas, our co-founders, it was important that if we're going to be acquired, it must be a culture that fits with our culture and a vision that fits with it. Thomas has talked early internally about how he's spent the last seven years building this amazing team, and it's super important that that continues, and it is valuable. Our whole is greater than the sum of our parts.

Stephen Augustus: Absolutely.

Liz Rice: And I think that's being recognized by the Cisco team as well.

Planning For The Future


Katherine Druckman: Cool. Yeah. You talk about the potential, right? There's a lot of potential here. I wondered if you could both talk about what the next year looks like or what it could look like in your fantasy?

Stephen Augustus: A lot of leadership will say this, we are coming in and we are not trying to shake it up or anything like that. First things first, Isovalent lands as an entire group. Nothing changes there. And I think what was important to me in the tech due diligence conversations was really making the team understand there is magic here. There's absolute magic here. And to mess with it and to not learn from it is a mistake.

So, first things first, I think we're going to learn the model. I'm selfishly going to use it as an opportunity to use this as a blueprint of what open source delivery could look like at Cisco. This is a model that we should try to replicate across business groups. I think when we talk about running open source strategy for Cisco, what does that mean? Is there one cohesive strategy? After you do it for a while, you realize, no, there isn't. It's impossible to be head of open source at Cisco. In terms of having a single strategy, you need to have a strategy for every business group that you encounter.

And that is wholly hinged on being able to tap into open source advocates, evangelists, whatever you want to call them...champions...within each business group to kind of steer that direction. Liz and I and Craig, who is the VP of engineering where Isovalent will be landing in that group, we are going to be partnering very closely, basically week by week to make sure of what we need to tweak. What do we need to learn? Is there something going wrong? Are we hearing weird stuff? So, from my side, I think it's a really, really fun time at Cisco in particular for open source.

At the time of recording, we've closed Splunk a few days ago. Splunk has major ties in the open telemetry community. Isovalent is coming up next. We have just hired my peer in legal, so newly, there is an SVP of IP and Tech. We have a new open source legal director. We're hiring more folks on that team as well. And we're starting to look at more of our contribution policies and the employee IP agreement and all these fun things that will accelerate the way that people are contributing to open source across Cisco. Isovalent is a huge part of the story and saying, this is a model that we should aspire to. How can we replicate that?

Katherine Druckman: That's painting a very interesting picture, especially your mention of Splunk. That's kind of an interesting piece of the puzzle here. The gears are turning.

Stephen Augustus: Ah, you're observing some things.

Katherine Druckman: Yeah, I'm observing. Yes, that's a good word. Incidentally, some of my favorite retro swag T-shirts came from Splunk in their early days. I'm sure you've seen them. Probably can't say them out loud on the recording, but they're funny. Anyway, yeah. So, the meeting of some very interesting, great technology in minds here. The potential is quite impressive. Since I talked to you Liz in, gosh, when was that? In November at KubeCon in Chicago, I heard more and more about interesting use cases for eBPF. I try to clue in a little bit more now that I have a little bit more context. And I wonder, again, looking at the roadmap of all the interesting potential, what are you the most excited about?

Liz Rice: I think I'm probably most excited about security. I do have a bit of background in security recently.

Stephen Augustus: This is a surprise. This is a surprise to me, Liz.

Liz Rice: And the ability to use eBPF for this incredibly low overhead way to observe events and filter them. With Cilium Tetragon, which is our security-oriented part of the project, we can filter events within the kernel and it just leads to this incredibly low overhead for generating events that you are interested in from a security perspective, like opening a sensitive file or creating a network connection. You don't want to know about every single file access that happens. You don't want to know about every single network connection. You want to know when it looks suspicious.

Katherine Druckman: Right.

Liz Rice: And that kind of ability to do that filtering in the kernel rather than pushing everything into user space makes things so much more efficient. I think it opens up the possibility for a lot more use of this runtime security information that we can detect and generate. And interestingly, one of the places that you can send those kinds of events is into Splunk. So, it all fits all together.

Stephen Augustus: Who knows what could happen? Yeah, I think there's definitely a contextual angle as well. If you're at KubeCon, you've heard “AI” 20 billion times.

Katherine Druckman: Yes.

Stephen Augustus: At least, right?

Katherine Druckman: Yes, I have.

Stephen Augustus: But I think one of the really-

Katherine Druckman: I’m glad you said it first.

Stephen Augustus: Yeah. I think one of the really interesting things, for context, I'm one of the co-creators of generative AI policy for Cisco, and that also ties into open source because the reason the legal team reached out was because we dropped a position statement regarding GitHub Copilot in the past, and they're like, "Ah, you said good words, let's talk to you again." But I think one of the most powerful things about a larger company getting into the AI space is there's lots of stuff for us to build. We could build something net new, but I think one of the key powers that we have is that we're sitting on decades of experience.

Katherine Druckman: Oh yeah. Shoulders of giants and all that, yeah.

Stephen Augustus: And specifically, the lake of data sitting within Cisco around how people approach networking.  I do see a world where you can help contextualize some of those security decisions based on what we've seen in the network in the past. And I don't think I'm leaking anything. Nothing has happened yet, but things are coming. I think with all of the incubation teams, as well as Isovalent, coming in soon, and Splunk having just come in, I think there is a big conversation to be had with some of these business groups about how we can weave these stories together. What is the better together story? What is the peanut butter and chocolate?

Katherine Druckman: When things like this come to fruition and you've picked this dream team and everybody comes together, you must be fantasizing about all these fantastic problems you could solve, right?

Stephen Augustus: Yeah. I may be likening this to Isovalent as the popular girl in high school, and...

Katherine Druckman: That's a good one.

Stephen Augustus: ... prom is coming up, right?

Katherine Druckman: She said yes.

Stephen Augustus: She said yes. But also, there are a lot of people reaching out to me even pre-close, how do we get tapped in? How do we get tapped in? How do we start having that conversation? It's happening from the Outship side, it's happening from business groups across Cisco. You were talking about what does the first, I don't know, quarter look like, first 100 days or so. That is going to be setting the standard for communication across Cisco and part of Liz's role, and Liz you can speak a little more to it, is what does it look like to put a fabric on top of the open source conversation within the security business group and how can we weave that into the product conversations that we're having across Cisco? It's not stuff that happens in isolation, right?

Katherine Druckman: Yeah.

Liz Rice: Yeah. And how do we enable those conversations and protect our existing mission? I think there's so many possibilities and so many different directions we could go and we need to be very strategic about the things that we need to prioritize.

Stephen Augustus: I think one of the biggest concerns people often have outside of that open source story that we were talking about is, “what happens to the stuff that you're already maintaining?” It's also, we have customers as Isovalent, they have customers. And I think one of the biggest things that people are scared about in acquisition scenarios is, how can we keep the momentum? How can we maintain that customer experience, that high level of working with folks on the solutions architecture side and on the CRE team, the customer reliability engineering teams, and the field engineering teams that are currently at Isovalent but have been in companies with me in the past. The level of care to that customer experience is paramount. I think a key component of those first 100 days is, of course, keeping the momentum with customers and making sure that they understand that this is good, this is excellent.

Liz Rice: We talk a lot in Isovalent about these sorts of pillars, of what our culture is built on, and it's amazing team building, amazing technology, and making our customers successful. And all of those things are just table stakes for us, whatever we do next. So, keeping our customers successful, keeping them engaged with what we're doing, that's critical. Yeah.

Reassuring The Community


Katherine Druckman: It's funny to me because hearing you talk through the issues that I've seen in other acquisitions, especially when open source projects are involved, that kind of reassurance and whatnot. It's funny because I know who you are, and I know the parties involved, and I'm just like, well, this is cool. It’s the cool kids getting together. And I'm observing it from a distance going like, “Oh, what could they do here?” But it is a nice reminder that if you're not necessarily in it, you would need to have that reassurance and that continuity conversation. That hasn't occurred to me just because I know y'all are cool.

Stephen Augustus: I think proof is always in the pudding. We can say anything that we want on stage and anything can happen. But the team is invested in making sure that is true. I think it's beyond just, again, we're putting together all this wonderful, brilliant open source talent and it behooves us not just from a company perspective, but also from an individual reputational perspective to be right.

Katherine Druckman: Yeah. Well, of course.

Stephen Augustus: I think we're all marching towards that outcome with that top of mind too. This is our reputation to do this, right?

Katherine Druckman: And we're talking about Cisco, which is still an iconic tech company in the U.S Anyway.

Stephen Augustus: We do okay.

Katherine Druckman: For those of us who are, of a certain age, Cisco was a big deal early on. It’s a highly respected name, so you can't play with it.

Liz Rice: Absolutely.

Stephen Augustus: When I started my career, the first two books I picked up were Study Guide for the MTSC, Microsoft's Certified Systems Engineer, and then..

Katherine Druckman: I remember that.

Stephen Augustus: And I read them cover to cover. So, to think getting my start in network and security engineering and routing, and to fast-forward a decade and some change to be at Cisco is...

Katherine Druckman: Yeah, that's cool. I felt the same way about Intel. I get it. There's a certain, I don't know, it's like nerd cred or something.

Stephen Augustus: It's surreal, right?

Katherine Druckman: Yeah, it is a bit. Yeah.

Liz Rice: Yeah, the companies that were foundational to the tech that we all use.

Katherine Druckman: Yeah, absolutely.

Liz Rice: Everybody has Cisco...

Katherine Druckman: Invented here.

Stephen Augustus: Actually invented here.

Liz Rice: Yeah

AI's Role Going Forward


Katherine Druckman: Yeah, that's cool. So I feel like we've covered quite a lot in a short period of time, but I feel like I'm missing something here. There's something that you wanted to share that I haven't gotten to, so I want to make sure we get to it.

Liz Rice: Is there something you want to share? Oh, no.

Katherine Druckman: Sorry, not to put you on the spot, but anyway, there's so much going on. I still want to hear more details about this dream data juggernaut project that you're going to come up with the little AI genius in there.

Stephen Augustus: I think in the general case, Cisco has been working on this concept of AI assistance. And I'm not going to spend too much time on AI because you've definitely heard it enough the last year or so.

Katherine Druckman: Yes and no.

Stephen Augustus: But I think you have a few different ways that you can play the game. My group Outshift is working on what is the next new. Our charter is effectively, “What is the next new thing that we're going to build for Cisco?” And the charter of other business groups may be how can we integrate into existing services? I remember going to Microsoft Build last year and I did some of the AI workshops and stuff, and they were like, "We have over 1800 connectors, AI connectors, within our product suites already." And you're like, "Oh, wow. They're on the move." And there's a certain level of penetration that you'll see because people are already using those products. I think that is definitely one of the paths that we're taking across business groups. How can we enrich the experience that you're already having with this product?

If you look at something like Cisco WebEx, you've got WebEx, the AI assistant, and sometimes I forget that the AI assistant is on and it'll send me a summary of the meeting and it'll go like, here are the meeting highlights, here are the action items from the meeting. And you're like, oh, the stuff that I needed to do, this is brilliant. I love this.

Katherine Druckman: Sometimes it's handy.

Stephen Augustus: I think getting used to having an enriched experience and then also realizing that it’s important to understand that people still make the decisions. AI is not taking your job.

Katherine Druckman: No.

Stephen Augustus: AI is here to enrich the way you do your job. If you feel that AI is taking your job, then you should be doing something slightly different. We are still responsible for the supervision and how we can bring teaching people how to supervise a bit better into the story is one of the conversations we're having at Cisco.

Liz Rice: Also, as an industry, I think we are very much in sort of hype mode around the power of AI and the fact that it presents in such a kind of human-like way when you interact with these things. I think that's giving us a bit of a false impression about how capable some of these systems are. I am sure amazing things are going to happen in the future based on AI, but where we are today is not quite as amazing as people want to believe.

Katherine Druckman: It's ultimately just processing a lot of data faster than other methods basically, right?

Liz Rice: And because it can look like human-like language, we tend to imbue it with more intelligence than is there.

Katherine Druckman: That's fair.

Stephen Augustus: Again, I had mentioned it earlier, but I think being able to get something that's contextually useful for my use case as opposed to — insert AI product assistant here — that you can just kind of type in and get an answer. But doing that from the Cisco lens, you're like, “Oh, tell me about my network state.” That is powerful. Or “Tell me why I’m getting this routing word. Tell me what's the optimal VLAN configuration over here, et cetera, et cetera.”  And again, not just on the networking side; this is going to have applications on security and observability.

Katherine Druckman: The possibilities are literally endless. I think of all the low-hanging, mundane security fruit that AI can eventually help with. Here, audit my role-based access control, do it for me because it's tedious and there's a lot of it figured out, right?

Liz Rice: Yeah. Or another example that I've seen that is quite successful is AWS Queue, I believe it's called. And you can go in and it's really just giving you relevant bits out of the documentation, but it saves you looking up the..

Katherine Druckman: Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Liz Rice: You can say, how do I configure this? And it's quicker than...

Stephen Augustus: I think about AI on top of Kubernetes documentation, for example. Imagine someone getting started and getting a lens into, oh, well, I shouldn't use this API in this way, for example.

Katherine Druckman: It's like having a buddy, a buddy who's read the documentation.

Stephen Augustus: Exactly.

Closing Thoughts


Katherine Druckman: Yeah. That's great. Everybody needs a tech buddy. Well, this is great. I did want to mention one thing because Cisco back in the day—and this is a kudos for respecting open source communities—so back in the day, I used to work for Linux Journal for many, many years...back when that was a thing, and we always used WebEx for our webinars because there was no other platform that could reliably work on desktop Linux. I don't know if you knew that, that you were the only one. Because we always tried. Because people had opinions and sometimes people would want to use something else, but we were like, "Nope, it's really WebEx."

Stephen Augustus: It's got to be WebEx.

Katherine Druckman: Yeah.

Stephen Augustus: Yeah. I think there's still a lot of opinions and everyone has a video conferencing or communication solution that doesn't quite work for me. It's like there is a lot to be said about the specific use cases, so it's cool that WebEx is in that space. It's cool to come back to WebEx after a really long time. It’s going on three years for me at Cisco, and I'm like, yeah, it’s even better than it was since I last touched it.

Liz Rice: That's definitely been my experience. I've had to use it a few times in the last few weeks. I hadn't used it for years before that, and it's definitely a lot better than I remember.

Katherine Druckman: Yeah, it's funny to think because desktop Linux users didn't get a lot of love. And still don't really, to be honest.

Stephen Augustus: Is 2024 the year of Linux on the desktop?

Katherine Druckman: The year of Linux on the desktop? It might be. I don't know. One hopes.

Stephen Augustus: Year plus plus.

Katherine Druckman: I don't know. Anyway, one hopes. But anyway, so yeah, thank you both so much. This was fantastic. I enjoy speaking with both of you. You're both so much fun.

Stephen Augustus: Always a pleasure, Katherine.

Katherine Druckman: And congratulations. I hope when this comes out, everything's done and sealed and signed and whatever you'd say.

Stephen Augustus: We will say thank you from our Cisco email addresses.

Katherine Druckman: Awesome. Yeah, and I can't wait to see what happens in the next year. I want to see fun little projects you cook up and...

Liz Rice: Well, invite us back at the next KubeCon.

Stephen Augustus: Yeah, we could do a little retrospective.

Katherine Druckman: Salt Lake. Yeah. Then the next thing, I don't know if we're allowed to say what that is.

Stephen Augustus: We know. You'll find out soon listeners.

Katherine Druckman: Yes. Secret. Okay. Well, thank you both so much. It's been a great time. Again.

Liz Rice: Pleasure.

Stephen Augustus: Pleasure.

Katherine Druckman: You've been listening to Open at Intel. Be sure to check out more from the Open at Intel podcast at We hope you join us again next time to geek out about open source.

About the Author

Katherine Druckman, Open Source Evangelist, Intel

Katherine Druckman, an Intel open source evangelist, hosts the podcasts Open at Intel, Reality 2.0, and FLOSS Weekly. A security and privacy advocate, software engineer, and former digital director of Linux Journal, she’s a longtime champion of open source and open standards.