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Cisco announces $1bn AI investment fund

The networking giant has already begun investing, with Cisco ploughing $200m into a range of AI startups

By Greg Noone

Cisco has announced its creation of a $1bn AI investment fund. The networking giant added that investments had already begun, with almost $200m-worth of commitments being made to a range of startups in the field that include Mistral AI, Scale AI and Cohere. At the firm’s ‘Cisco Live’ event, chief executive Chuck Robbins emphasised that the investment fund would also seek to shape product development in targeted startups for the wider benefit of its customers.

“Everybody yawns when you hear about a billion dollars in AI these days – ‘Oh, another billion dollars,’” Robbins told audience members in Las Vegas. “Part of our investment thesis is that there are unique co-development activities that we can enter into with [startups] to bring you more innovative solutions and help you navigate the AI transition.”

The Cisco logo on one of its networking products.
Cisco has announced a new $1bn AI investment fund designed to fund and shape the output of promising startups in the field. (Photo by Shutterstock)

Cisco’s AI strategy

Harnessing generative AI has become a major priority for Cisco as the customer seeks to diversify its core networking business. Recent years have seen the firm embark on over 20 AI-themed acquisitions, snapping up companies including cybersecurity firms Armorblox, Isovalent and most famously Splunk for $28bn. “These strategic investments and partnerships,” said the firm, “build upon Cisco’s holistic strategy to connect and protect the AI era.”

Its strategy echoes those of other big tech firms like Google, Amazon and Microsoft, creating what the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority recently described as an “interconnected web” of 90 major investments up and down the AI value chain. Like these firms, too, the networking giant has also leveraged many of the models developed by its acquired companies and partners in its own business. 

This includes its HyperShield security system, which uses generative AI to respond to threat actors moving through network hardware. The product was developed using an open-source eBPF standard used to protect hyperscale cloud workloads from cyberattacks, mere weeks after the networking giant acquired Isovalent, one of the leading providers of eBPF products. 

Mixed headlines for security giant

Simultaneously, Cisco launched a new product – Cisco ThousandEyes, a new AI-powered dashboard for IT operations – and new capabilities for its firewalls and cloud security services. The announcements follow several weeks of mixed headlines for the networking giant, including the sentencing of a Florida resident for peddling counterfeit Cisco equipment to the US military, the discovery of a critical vulnerability in Cisco’s Firepower Management Centre that could enable SQL injection attacks and an admission by the firm that its Emergency Responder product could send dispatchers “to the wrong address, building or location.” A patch is now available for the latter flaw. 

Read more: Cisco joins Microsoft and IBM in signing Vatican’s Rome Call AI pact

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