Cisco spreads next-gen message

HONOLULU – Network managers can expect to hear a lot more about cutting-edge network services from Cisco Systems Inc. if the company’s message resonates with attendees of its annual Partner Summit held here last month.

Building on its mantra that it is not merely a router and switch maker but an enabler of improved security, voice, storage and other Internet Protocol (IP)-driven applications, Cisco took its go-forward strategy to the reseller masses over the course of two days.

During his keynote speech, Charles Giancarlo, Cisco’s senior vice-president and general manager, product development, articulated the Cisco vision of how networks are being transformed into something more than tools that merely offer LAN and WAN connectivity.

“It’s about virtualizing the assets of an organization,” he told an audience of approximately 1,500 channel partners. “It’s about making the network a resource for the organization.”

And it is applications such as IP telephony, security and wireless that the San Jose-based firm is clearly letting its partners know are the keys to future profits as far as the network is concerned.

In the area of voice, Giancarlo said a large opportunity exists to deploy Cisco’s IP telephony offerings in the coming months and years.

“As the lifecycles of PBXs (private branch exchanges) installed before 2000 wind down, there is a great opportunity to replace them,” he said.

Giancarlo also touted the idea of a “self-defending network,” whereby intelligent features incorporated into Cisco’s routers and switches will be able to ward off malicious activity automatically before it does any harm.

This, he said, is partially accomplished by the high level of encryption that the company has built into the equipment itself.

In another keynote, Mike Volpi, Cisco’s senior vice-president, routing technology group, identified teleworking as another ripe area for partners to present to their enterprise customers as a next-generation-type offering. In doing so, he discussed the unique challenges that face network managers in their attempts to extend the enterprise into remote and home-office settings.

“With teleworking, the place of work is physically not as secure as the corporate headquarters. You don’t own the link,” he said, adding that the environment, such as the home setting, is typically a mixed-use environment, referring to the fact that many home computers are used by all family members for myriad computing uses.

Volpi said the answers to such problems could be found in the Cisco 3200 series mobile access router. A smaller-scale device than most Cisco routers, the 3200 can be held in the palm of one’s hand and can maintain mobility across different wireless protocols.

One partner on hand was Burnaby, B.C.-based Telus, which late last year launched its IPOne service. It allows the firm’s service provider customers to offer IP services such as those discussed by Cisco this week to their customers, in particular voice over IP (VoIP). Telus representatives said customers can recognize 20 to 30 per cent savings on voice costs as well as having the ability to get new services delivered over the IP network.

According to Dan McLean, director, strategic partnering and alliances research for IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, none of the advanced technology markets that Cisco is attacking are led by any particular vendor. While Cisco enjoys a dominant market share postion in the routing and switching arenas, the optical, storage, voice over IP, security, wireless are “greenfield opportunities,” said McLean.

“We’re a long way from establishing who are going to be the market leaders in these advanced technologies. The market for these products is relatively small but you’ve got companies in there that are really passionate, that realize they have a chance to establish market leadership,” he said. “I think these are markets that are going to be really hotly contested.”

Cisco put its technology to work during the week by handing out IP-enabled wireless phones to each attendee. Throughout the presentations, conference-goers were able to use the devices to respond to a number of multiple-choice queries posed by company representatives. One such question asked, “Which area represents the greatest opportunity for you in the future?” Interestingly, the market of small and medium businesses ranked first with a 46 per cent showing, far outdistancing the other options, which were: enterprise campus (15 per cent); branch offices (14 per cent); data centre (13 per cent); teleworking (10 per cent); and factory floor (three per cent).

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