Cisco Partnerships Power Networks
While it doesn't aspire to be a consulting company, Cisco Systems Inc. does think it can show enterprises how to transform their networks to deliver new, intelligent services that can help them build their businesses and improve productivity.
In fact, sharing that networking wisdom is part of an enterprise strategy company officials here hope will fuel 10 to 15 percent growth in the coming year. Aspart of that strategy,
Cisco is planning to proliferate its Intelligent Information Networks by joining with integration partners on storage, security, wireless, optical, IP telephony and home networking technologies, the officials said.
Pitching itself as a trusted partner, Cisco, wants to show businesses how these hot technologies can be integrated through software- and hardware-based additions to Cisco's core switches and routers. Such integration, Cisco officials contend, will allow enterprises to do things such as scale services across large networks and free up processing cycles on servers that now have to perform that work.
But at least one industry observer said such "smart networks" may not be such a smart idea. "They lack flexibility, and they are dependent on a single vendor to develop enhancements that enable new services," said David Passmore, an analyst with Burton Group, in Sterling, Va.
In Cisco's flagship Catalyst 6500 switch, "we're starting to see 30 percent of [a half-million] customers mixing and matching advanced services technologies," countered Soni Jiandani, general manager of Cisco's Internet Switching unit. "It keeps customers from having to be network integrators."
Cisco helped the Greater Toronto Airports Authority build one such transformational network, which went live last spring supporting a mix of voice, video and data applications. "I'm using the network to generate non-aeronautical revenue of $1 million, and this was just since April," said James Burke, vice president of IT and telecommunications for the GTAA, in Toronto. "I agree with the [growth] strategy. I like to think I've prodded them that way," Burke said.
The latest integrated advanced service for the Catalyst 6500 is wireless support, which is now in trials with about 200 customers, Jiandani said. Following that is an anomaly detection module due later this month. Cisco is also evaluating a caching blade and call center integration support.
Beyond the data center switch, Cisco, of San Jose, Calif., plans to integrate wireless capabilities into its stackable Catalyst switches as well as its access routers, such as the new Integrated Services Routers. Although it's not clear which platform will gain wireless integration first, it will be available in one of them next spring, according to Cisco sources.
In the application performance optimization space, Cisco is working with new "application awareness" technology. The technology will go beyond the work Cisco has done with Citrix Systems Inc. to determine what packets to tag for different prioritization in a QOS (quality of service) program.
In addition, Cisco is focusing on what it terms "service virtualization" and is early in its multiyear effort to turn the concept into products. Its earliest efforts focus on storage, where Cisco allows disks and volumes to be virtualized and made available on demand, according to Chief Technology Officer Charlie Giancarlo.
"We have several customers in the financial services industry that are looking at how to build new data centers hundreds of miles apart that can do full mirroring as backup," said Giancarlo, at Cisco's annual analyst meeting here last week.
Although such service virtualization requires expert network integration services, Cisco has no plans to take on that job itself. "Our general model is a partner model. We have to train them," Giancarlo said.
Beyond the six growth areas, Cisco has identified several new focus areas, although executives are loath to tip their hand just yet. "We will introduce some [of them] this fiscal year and next year," said Giancarlo. One likely area of investment is application-aware networking.
Giancarlo acknowledged that XML and messaging protocol standards are immature and implementations haven't yet reached critical mass, "but we think there is a way to operate at a higher level of value, and we can do things to allow users to scale better."
Other possible growth areas include clustering, anti-spam, anti-virus, file virtualization, session border control and message handling, officials said.
Despite the significant professional services effort required to make its strategy successful, Cisco does not intend to become a large services provider or acquire one, for that matter. Instead, it will rely on systems integration partners. Cisco this week will announce global alliance agreements with a few top systems integration companies, which will co-brand their offerings with Cisco intellectual property, according to Wim Elfrink, senior vice president of customer advocacy.
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