Cisco upgrades content-caching software

Cisco Systems Inc. this week announced Version 5.0 of its Application and Content Networking System (ACNS) software, saying the upgrade offers greater scalability to companies that use video and other high-bandwidth applications for internal training and communications.

The ACNS 5.0 software lets on-demand and live video feeds reach more desktops than could be supported before, Cisco officials said. The company also made security and management enhancements to the software, which lets users control the caching and distribution of content.

The upgrade is currently shipping on four new Content Engine appliances that range from branch office to data center devices and are priced from US$5,500 to $60,000. It will be available in module form for the Cisco 2600, 3600 and 3700 series routers next month, the company said.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is using ACNS 5.0 to provide video capabilities for training and communications on 180,000 desktop systems at hundreds of locations nationwide, said Craig Davis, an IT coordinator at the agency. The VA had been using Version 4.2 of the technology, but Davis said the new release will allow it to more than double the number of end users who can be reached at the same time.

The VA has spent $4.5 million to buy and install hundreds of Cisco Content Engines at the edges of its LANs and metropolitan-area networks. Content is sent to the Cisco devices from a facility in St. Louis via satellite transmissions and then dispersed to end users at a range of network speeds, said Dan Mayhew, the agency’s media and learning technology coordinator.

“We can load content in St. Louis and then place it on 1,000 or more content engines in seconds with a single pass of the satellite,” Mayhew said. “It makes content distribution extremely simple.”

A network as large as the VA’s would never be able to handle the flood of video data without caching technology at its edges, said Peter Christy, an analyst at NetsEdge Research Group in Los Altos, Calif.

In essence, Cisco’s content engines are Linux servers that companies can install in network wiring closets, Christy said. ACNS 5.0 offers much greater manageability than Version 4.2 does and shows that Cisco understands companies want to “move much more than videos around,” he added.

Julie O’Brien, a Cisco product manager, said the content that can be delivered also includes Web-based applications such as Siebel Systems Inc.’s customer relationship management software, which has common elements that can be cached for use by sales teams.