Cisco is looking to play catch up ASAP

If your communications system has more pipes than a cathedral organ, Cisco Systems wants to simplify your life with its new network architecture.

Dubbed ASAP (Any Service, Any Port), the release is designed for Cisco’s AS5000 Series of Universal Gateways, which will now be able to deliver voice, data, fax and mobile wireless all on a single edge infrastructure, according to Cisco.

There are two key technological developments that make ASAP possible, according to Mathew Lodge, manager of product marketing for Cisco’s Remote Access Business Unit in San Jose, Calif. The first involves universal digital signal processing chips with a new sub-system that can filter and forward any medium “on the fly.” The second deals with software that manages the network’s resources and maps applications to ports.

“We have enabled some pretty exciting next-generation services – tightly integrated voice and data services – and we’re able to let service providers and large enterprises do that profitably because we’re able to replace two or three different devices or separate edge networks,” Lodge said.

Since competitors such as Lucent and Nortel have had similar universal port capability for more than a year, Cisco badly needed ASAP so that its customers could extend the useful life of their investments, said Brent Wilson, principal analyst for carrier infrastructure with Sterling, Va.-based Current Analysis.

“It’s geared to what should be very high-margin sales into Cisco’s large install base. They have a lot of product out there, and if you can get [customers] to upgrade for enhanced functionality, that’s typically very good sales from a margin-contribution standpoint,” Wilson said.

TelNet Worldwide Inc., a Troy, Mich.-based CLEC operating throughout the state, deployed a beta version of ASAP to converge their voice and data traffic with the aim of launching a managed-modem service. The result was that TelNet became “very, very competitive in their marketplace,” said company president Mark Iannuzzi.

“When you get down to dollars and cents, what this has meant to us is more product offerings, and some products at a lesser dollar amount, because our capital investment is less. It also provides us with some degree of agility where we can respond more quickly to changes in the market.”

Although Lodge said that it is very easy to incrementally migrate into an ASAP solution, Iannuzzi found that bringing together the worlds of public telephone service, the Internet and numerous ancillary products definitely had its complexities.

“It’s not for the faint of heart – you really have to know what you’re doing. Where the rubber hits the road on this you have to be sure you’re well-prepared,” Iannuzzi said.

While he is pleased with his reduced price-per-port costs, Iannuzzi suggested a few areas where “there is a good slug of work that can be done to really spiff up the product line.”

“The key next step is not about the protocols and technology that’s in the (ASAP) system, because where we’re at right now is going to cover quite a bit of ground for some time. The piece that needs to be addressed by Cisco is the integration of the data in (the ASAP) systems with operational support systems,” he said.

“The technology is all well and good in being able to accomplish those tasks – it’s a tremendous thing. But day in and day out, what you’re looking for is not only being able to bring reliable products to the market, but that you can provision it easily, monitor it properly, and bill your customers.”