Giancarlo described for the audience of networking engineers and operators the architecture and strategy Cisco is pursuing as it seeks to move its influence higher up the ISO 7 layer protocol stack.
Driving Ciscos Intelligent Information Network strategy is the increasing demand to make IT—and particularly network resources—more responsive to changing business requirements.
As consumers and businesses seek to acquire new products, information or business in real time, organizations have to respond faster and serve customers in a way thats "Instantaneous, Interactive and Natural," he asserted.
"The world in the future will be made up of the quick and the dead. In business terms, the quick are those who capture information about their market and suppliers and act on that information rapidly. The dead are people who dont know and cant act on information," said Giancarlo, the chief technology officer at Cisco Systems Inc.
In between those two are "the slow, who can capture information but cant act on it, and then we have the clueless: They can act fast, but their information is bad," he added.
Also driving the need for real-time response is a set of new, converged applications that span multiple end devices, as well as different physical networks from wireless to wireline or cable.
"It used to be that network convergence was what would drive services, but now its the application convergence thats forcing the various carriers to go toward a converged network. Otherwise they cant drive service convergence to their customers," Giancarlo said. That is a reversal from changes in network technology driving new services to application and service convergence forcing networks to change.
It is end users—both business and consumers—that are demanding new value and software from IP networks rather than IT. "Its all about connecting content—music, movies, phone conversations, applications—and tying that to a set of customers," he said.
Carriers and services providers are responding by virtualizing services on top of existing infrastructures, Giancarlo said, citing Vonage and Skype as examples. Those service providers dont control the network or the backbone, but they can quickly add a new service.
"When you virtualize a service, you can [roll it out] in the same day. Thats a huge competitive advantage. It is a next-generation network in a real way," he said.
In Ciscos vision, that next-generation network is based on four elements: the customer element [customer premises equipment]; the access layer; the intelligent edge where end user services are placed, such as security and traffic filtering; and a multiservice core "that can take IP traffic and give it the [quality of service] it needs to scale. All four of these segments have to handle service in a transparent way," he said.
The change this is bringing about for Cisco is to participate now at the content layer, rather than at the packet layer.
The same forces are driving enterprises to operate in real time as well. "They want to be able to use any processor anywhere, and any disk space" through service virtualization.
To turn its Intelligent Information Network vision into reality, Cisco in its first phase has integrated voice, video and data onto a single network. In the second phase, Cisco is working to deliver virtualized services in the network.
Examples of such services include installing a centralized IP PBX, then installing IP phones in remote branch offices and have them instantly operate as if the PBX were local.
In the third phase of its three- to five-year vision, Cisco is pushing the concept of the network being able to "act on application information thats passing through the network and add value to that," Giancarlo said.
The third phase describes the new AON (Application-Aware Networking) initiative Cisco launched Tuesday.
The AON initiative is about reading the payload of the IP packet and then applying security or policy rules against the application messages inside the packet.
"We can bring a level of sophistication, security and management that isnt possible today," he said. "Its the first and only network-embedded system for intelligent application message routing."
As traffic passes through a switch or a router, "we can set filters for the kind of application that we want to intercept messages for. [An AON blade inside a Catalyst 6500 switch or ISR branch office router] intercepts messages and takes action on them," he said.
"With AON, you can provide for consistent and pervasive enforcement of application policies. You dont have to change existing applications to make use of AON. It provides for real-time visibility of whats going on in your message network environment," he said.
In Ciscos vision of the next-generation network, it will become a self-defending network that sees continued migration of functions into the network fabric. "Switches become the core of the computer—tightly connected processors that can be reconfigured on demand," Giancarlo said. "There are endless opportunities for growth."