Cisco launches content delivery architecture

Less than half a year after spending more than US$6 billion to acquire two companies that manufacture content-aware switches and appliances, San Jose, Calif.’s Cisco Systems Inc. has announced it will begin offering a new intelligent network system next month.

Cisco’s Content Delivery Network (CDN) System is a five-part architecture designed to allow service providers to deliver content closer to the end user. The company says its CDN will alleviate delays in the transport of IP traffic, and will enable the efficient streaming of multi-media content and distribution of applications in the future.

The CDN is designed to overlay a service provider’s or enterprise’s existing IP infrastructure. It is made up of five core components, including: Content Distribution and Management; Content Routing; Content Delivery; Content Switching; and Intelligent Network Services.

According to Cisco, the CDN system, made up of old and new Cisco products, works in the following manner:

A content distribution manager, following policies set by the system administrator, automatically pushes static or frequently accessed content closer to the user, thereby avoiding the bottlenecks that occur at network peering points, or “the middle mile,” when traffic is sent a long distance; a content router directs a user’s request for information to the closest copy of the origin content; the content switching engine then selects the best available server at that site.

With the CDN, Cisco is leveraging its purchase of Waltham, Mass.’s SightPath in March and Acton, Mass.’s Arrowpoint Communications in May.

Arrowpoint made Web switches that directed traffic based on how often and what information was contained in the content users were requesting. SightPath’s appliances helped to route traffic by collecting data on Web traffic congestion and server loads.

Dan McLean, an analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto, said he is impressed with Cisco’s new initiative, which he described as “basically setting up caching within all types of devices that connect up and to the Internet.”

“If you could move the content that a user wants closer to that user, then it just – by orders of magnitude – speeds up the whole experience of people accessing content through the Internet,” McLean noted.

He said the CDN systems could be of particular importance to application service providers (ASPs) in the future.

“If I’m a user, and I am leasing applications from an ASP, and I’m accessing those applications from a device that doesn’t necessarily have localized processing power, what Cisco is talking about is providing power through all sorts of Internet or network connected devices out there,” McLean explained. “So I’m actually not just accessing that application, but I have the ability to process that information as well.”

Getting to that point where desktop PCs are merely Internet devices without much hardware will depend greatly on whether Cisco has any luck in standardizing content delivery network specifications, McLean said.

Cisco, as the leader of the Content Alliance, is striving to set standards for content delivery when it goes to the IETF in December.

“The standards are important because it means delivery networking doesn’t just work on Cisco devices,” McLean said. “They improve interoperability between devices.”