"Our industry is about to hit the next wave in relevance ... But it will require us to change," he said as he roamed through the audience.
The explosion in the number of devices and number of application downloads (77 billion in 2014, up from 10 billion three or four years ago) is changing every industry and the survivors will need to adapt rapidly, he said. For the network, this means an application-centric model that's built on software, hardware and system design.
"This will be the biggest move IT has seen," Chambers said.
To demonstrate the future of this application-centric model, Chambers was joined on stage by Jim Grubb, Cisco's chief demonstration officer, who showed off Cisco Connected Mobile Experience (CMX) for Facebook Wi-Fi. He showed how a visitor to a hospital can open up a Web browser on his or her mobile device and logon with their Facebook credentials to connect to the hospital's Wi-Fi. The user could then access services such as hospital check-in, or could have the appropriate medical records loaded onto a physician’s tablet.
The service uses a software connector on Cisco Integrated Services router or Aggregation Services router 1000 routers with UCS E-Series blades. Cisco said the service will provide retailers and other businesses with location information and other data about their customers that will help them provide personalized services.
"What you saw took concepts that had to be designed into ASICs," Chambers said after the demonstration. He stressed the role of ASICs several times in his keynote, noting that "software itself will not get the job done."
By highlighting the role of hardware and ASICs in the next-generation network, Chamber countered VMware's software-centric vision of network virtualization.
[Read more about VMware's network virtualization product and the impact it might have in "VMware NSX: Game Changer For Data Center Networks."]
While Chambers was upbeat about the role of the network in the future of an Internet of things-dominated world, he also indicated that the transition will be far from easy.
"I think we're about to enter the next era where IT is so innovative," he said, but added that there will be "brutal consolidation in IT."
An earlier keynote by William Murphy, CTO of the Blackstone Group an investment firm, also stressed the changing role of IT and the need for IT to become a business enabler. IT pros need to counter negative perceptions of IT as defensive, overpriced and unhelpful by becoming salespeople who engage business people by speaking their language, he said.
"Forget about being a technology leader," Murphy said. "You have to be a true business leader."