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Ferrari designers worked with Cisco to make its new hardware easier to use

  • Pininfarina consulted with Cisco on every aspect of the new switch's design.
  • The focus was on making the hardware easier to use.
Ferrari 812 Superfast
Source: Ferrari
Ferrari 812 Superfast

The names Cisco and Ferrari aren't often mentioned in the same breath.

They were on Tuesday, when Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins unveiled what he calls the company's most significant new piece of networking hardware in a decade.

Cisco tapped Pininfarina, the Italian firm that's been designing Ferrari sports cars since the 1950s, to make its new network switches as sleek as possible -- considering they're boxes that sit in the data center.

"We're trying to make everything smoother and more ergonomic," said Sachin Gupta, Cisco's vice president for enterprise products, in an interview at the product launch in San Francisco. "We wanted to leave no stone unturned."

Cisco spent several years and dedicated thousands of engineers toward creating a new family of switches -- the Catalyst 9000 -- built for the age of connected devices. It's no longer just computers and phones spitting out data, but everything from the lighting system to the air conditioning units connected to the network.

Gupta said that he met personally with four designers of Pininfarina at Cisco's headquarters in San Jose, California.

Cisco's Catalyst 9000 series of switches.
Ari Levy | CNBC
Cisco's Catalyst 9000 series of switches.

Even with the design upgrades, the big white boxes certainly won't be mistaken for luxury Italian sports cars. But Gupta said the real focus was on usability and functionality. The ejector handles are easier to access and the internal fan can be reached through the back of the device, cutting way back on the amount of labor required to fix it.

The products were also put through user testing sessions so they could gather feedback for the consultants to implement.

"It's modernizing the experience for the hardware era," Gupta said.

Cisco has worked with Pininfarina in the past, notably for a firewall device in its security portfolio.

Watch: Cramer weighs in on Ferrari stock