Cisco aims for smarter pipes, SPs

SAN JOSE – A continued push into the service provider space and increased development of intelligent networking features were two of the major trends highlighted by Cisco Systems Ltd. executives last month at the networking giant’s analyst conference held in the heart of Silicon Valley.

These and other strategy pushes are designed to increase the overall productivity of Cisco’s customers, according to President and CEO John Chambers, whose speech kicked off the proceedings.

“The key to productivity is integration,” Chambers told the approximately 300 industry watchers assembled from around the globe. “You need the network, you need the applications and you need to undertake change process. If you don’t initiate a change process, productivity increases won’t happen.”

Chambers was referring to a fundamental shift that is taking place in the corporate world in which rising profits are increasingly being accounted for by Web-based applications deployed within the enterprise. The CEO said that we are currently only in the first of three waves that will see this Internet Protocol (IP)-based way of doing business take hold.

While these thoughts might be part of a long-term vision, Chambers and the series of Cisco executives who followed him throughout the day made it clear that Cisco has two key short-term objectives: to put more intelligent capabilities into its equipment and to further break into the service provider space.

On the intelligence front, Cisco is building more predictive capabilities into its routers, switches and other offerings that automatically remedy network problems and route traffic to its appropriate destination. The utopic advantage for IT departments in this scenario centres around the fact that managers will see their responsibility load lessened: if the network is managing itself, the IT pro’s job becomes that much easier.

Chambers billed this concept as the “network of networks” – essentially a series of technologies, such as a wireless LAN (WLAN) or a voice-over-IP infrastructure, linked together seamlessly, so that when a user has to traverse these different networks during a single session, the experience is transparent.

On the service provider front, Chambers described the telecom industry’s recent woes as “an unfortunate time, but a market transition that is allowing us to move in.”

“Moving in” to Cisco means getting carriers to make the leap from traditional PBX-based systems to IP-based networks. According to Andrew Sage of Cisco Systems Canada, the presence of three multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) networks in Canada makes his company’s job of accomplishing this goal easier in the Great White North than in other parts of the world.

“You need that Layer-3 intelligence to make the connection from the enterprise to the service provider to the public Internet to the small office/home office to the mobile network.”

Sage added that of Cisco’s total number of IP telephony deployments worldwide last year, six per cent were made in Canada – a clear indication to him that Canada would not be a laggard in this area.

Dan McLean, an analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto, said that there is a certain inevitability in the minds of carriers towards the adoption of IP infrastructures. However, “the issue is that their legacy stuff works quite nicely. The IP network will come, but it isn’t going to happen overnight. It will be a long, slow build.”

McLean suggested that before the all-IP networks are established, users can expect carriers to utilize a hybrid system that combines IP and traditional telephony infrastructures.

As for Chambers’ message about networks being the enabler to drive further productivity within corporations, McLean commented that Cisco must deliver this type of message in order to convince traditionally non-tech-savvy CEOs and business unit managers that they should invest in IP networks.

“The traditional sell is around feeds and speeds, but with this approach Cisco is saying that there’s a tangible benefit to network building,” McLean told Network World Canada. “To these people, it’s all just plumbing – ‘Why should I invest in it?’ I think it’s a reasonable approach.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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