The privately held Sheer Networks Inc., based in San Jose, Calif. is expected to provide Cisco Systems Inc. with a framework for creating multivendor network management applications designed to take the cost out of operating next-generation service provider networks.
Many large service providers working to develop converged IP networks providing a range of voice, video and data services, said Cliff Meltzer, senior vice president for Ciscos Network Management Technology Group in San Jose, Calif.
Thus, he said, the need exists for a range of network management applications that allow networks to be expanded and services to be added without requiring a large network operator force to maintain.
"Service providers have become more conscious of the cost of running their network and how to grow their network without adding staff to manage it. The way to do that is through intelligent software that enables you to scale without adding a lot of staff," he said.
Sheers software employs a Dynamic Network Abstraction layer designed to mask the underlying network complexity from developers creating a range of different management programs.
Cisco will use Sheers virtual network model to create and market applications for managing network devices, logical networks and network service levels.
Cisco will extend the model to allow other hardware and software developers to create applications that can interoperate with the planned Cisco applications through standards-based APIs. The APIs will also allow for integration into the service providers OSS environment.
The Sheer framework paralleled an internal effort underway at Cisco to create a similar network management architecture.
"We found in Sheer a shared vision of where the market was going and the underlying technology. We felt if that was brought in-house it would significantly improve our time to market for our major service provider customers," Meltzer said.
The move to provide multivendor network management represents a shift in Ciscos strategy for managing large-scale service provider networks. Although Cisco has historically only provided management for Cisco devices, service provider customers spoke loud and clear of their desire for multivendor management.
"Major service providers have a multivendor network and expect Cisco to deliver a set of products that help them manage their networks effectively. This gives us a larger available market [for network equipment]. Well enable service providers to be more successful, which in turn allows them to spend more money on their networks," Meltzer said.
The $97 million cash deal could rise in value to as much as $122 million if Sheer Networks meets certain development milestones after the acquisition closes, which is expected to happen between now and late October.
Those requirements include moving the Sheer framework to an open J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition) environment. That move should enable the framework to be extended to manage critical Cisco switches and operating environments, including its new high-end CRS-1 router and IOS XR operating system.
The framework will provide vendors with a common information model to simplify integration of various management applications. Such open frameworks have been attempted in the past, but have largely failed to achieve their objectives.
Meltzer acknowledged those failures, but he asserted that it can be done. "You need to open the southbound and the northbound interface built around a common information model so that future applications you build later would be able to interoperate with applications built today," he said.
Cisco intends to bring most of the 100 Sheer Networks employees onboard when the acquisition is complete. Sheer President and CEO Klod Ghez is expected to remain onboard and report to Meltzer.