Chambers told analysts that Cisco pulls in about $6 billion from software per year and plans to double that in the next three to five years. That's not a figure the company usually breaks out, as most of its software is deeply integrated into hardware such as routers and switches, which shunt data through networks.
Analysts at the meeting were unsure how to incorporate the figure into their models, and the company didn't give a lot of specifics on how it hoped to achieve that.
Analysts also questioned how Cisco hopes to be the top player when it doesn't sell the massive storage arrays that big companies need for their data. Chambers said Cisco will keep partnering with companies that do sell storage products, including IBM and EMC Corp.
Apart from IBM, Cisco's chief competitors for the "No. 1 IT" throne are Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., SAG AG and Hewlett-Packard Co. Cisco partners closely with them, except for HP.
Chambers said the company is sticking to its forecast of growing sales by 5 percent to 7 percent per year and its earnings slightly faster, at 7 percent to 9 percent per year. Both figures represent pullbacks from the past two decades, when the San Jose, Calif., company often grew sales by more than 10 percent per year.
Cisco's stock fell 15 cents, or 0.7 percent, to close Friday at $19.33.