Cisco Buttresses Its Services Pitch

Cisco's revamped Advanced Services program is aimed at providing customers with more flexibility in choosing support options and expanding the number of Cisco applications included.

Cisco Systems Inc. today announced a revamped Advanced Services program aimed at providing customers with more flexibility in choosing support options and expanding the number of Cisco applications included.

Ciscos move comes as enterprises and service providers are under increasing pressure to do more with less within their own teams of networking engineers and administrators.

"Staffing is not increasing currently and although the network is growing, our bank wants more applications and more functionality from the network," said a Bank of America N.A. network operations manager, who asked not to be named.

The 1,500-person Advanced Services group, consisting mainly of engineers, supports 11 Cisco applications from IP telephony and voice-over-DSL to content networking and IP-based contact centers. New support for wireless LAN, enhanced IP and security/VPN applications is included. Other applications, such as metro Ethernet, are expected in the next six months, according to officials at Cisco, in San Jose, Calif.

Technology Application Support, one of three main offerings in the new Advanced Services program, includes consulting in the design, configuration and security of applications, with actual deployment typically being done through systems integrator partners.

The Focused Technical Support offering provides customers with a team of engineers dedicated to supporting a customers network operations, troubleshooting problems and providing trend analysis. The third package, Network Optimization Support, offers advice on planning, configuration and software migration to improve network performance.

The three offerings can be bundled together or customers can pick and choose specific features of the various offerings, a shift from previous Advanced Services offerings that locked some customers into more features than they needed.

Since shifting to Cisco routers and switches in 1997, Bank of America, of Charlotte, N.C., has seen an increased need for using Cisco support services, the network manager said. Especially in the past year, with the bank limiting hiring of network administrators and engineers, the bank uses expertise from Cisco engineers to help not only in operation support but in such projects as testing voice-over-IP.

"People are reducing staff at the very time theyre deploying new applications," said Mike Farabelli, vice president of services marketing at Cisco, of San Jose, Calif.

Pricing for Advanced Services varies based on the features chosen, volume of support chosen and the size of the network and will be primarily subscription based. While customers have more options, Cisco officials expect they will spend more on the new Advanced Services as more of them move to deploy new applications.

The Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), a non-profit telecommunications provider to rural communities in the Pacific Northwest, has used support services from Cisco since building its first fiber network beginning a year and a half ago. The services have been key since NoaNet, of East Wenatchee, Wash., only has a seven person network staff, said Chris Walker operations manager. He plans to consider additional Advanced Services to support future applications across the network such as digital video.

"Implementing new technologies as they arise without having to increase the scope of the network is probably the biggest goal [in using Advanced Services]," Walker said. "Building a network is fairly expensive so we dont want to also have to buy additional equipment to provide service."