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Cisco has moved three members of its legendary 'MPLS team' to advisory roles

The people behind the company's "spin-in" R&D strategy.

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Three members of a legendary four-person team of engineers at Cisco Systems who spearheaded the networking giant's unusual R&D strategy of building startups it later acquires have been moved to advisory roles within Cisco, sources familiar with the move tell Recode.

Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain and Luca Cafiero — along with Soni Jiandani — formed the backbone of an institution unique to Cisco that came to be known informally as the MPLS Team. (The abbreviation comes from their first names, but in a bit of industry-insider humor also coincidentally stands for a networking technology invented at Cisco.)

The team has for the better part of two decades led an important branch of Cisco's research and development efforts in a unique way: Cisco would fund independent startups as a sole investor, and then later buy them out and adapt their products. The deals came to be known as "spin-ins," and Cisco is said to have spent more than $2 billion on them over the last two decades.

CEO Chuck Robbins announced in an internal memo last week that Mazzola, Jain and Cafiero will move into internal advisory roles. Meanwhile, Jiandani, the fourth member, has been promoted to run Insieme, Cisco's most recent spin-in acquisition, reporting directly to Robbins. Cisco spent about $100 million to start Insieme in 2012 and then paid $863 million to buy it out less than two years later.

Robbins also announced that David Goeckeler, a senior VP who runs Cisco's security business, has been promoted to run its enterprise networking group as well.

The move has been the subject of rumors for a while. Last summer Cisco slapped down a Network Work report that Mazzola, Prem and Jain were on their way out of the company entirely.

Cisco has used the spin-in method as part of its R&D strategy since the mid-1990s, and it became a hallmark of the operation of prior CEO John Chambers.

Unusual? Sure, but as Julie Bort of Business Insider wrote in a lengthy story on the spin-in strategy and the executives behind it, it certainly worked out well for Cisco. Insieme's once-experimental products formed the basis of the Nexus 9000, its latest family of switches.

Other examples of these Cisco spin-ins include Andiamo Systems, which created a storage product and which Cisco bought out in 2002, and Nuova Systems, which developed a new switch that led Cisco to buy it in 2008.

Separately Cisco's CEO Chuck Robbins spoke at the Code Conference with Recode's Kara Swisher Wednesday afternoon.

Update: We initially misspelled David Goeckeler's last name.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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