Cisco Reaches For Bigger Network Slice

Don't call the networking giant a mere parts shop. It's retooling to sell entire systems. The big question is whether technology executives will buy it.

SAN JOSE—Cisco Systems Inc. wants to be more of a systems provider and less of a parts shop.

To that end, the networking vendor of late is taking a holistic approach to its products and the way it sells them, with integration of advanced services functions into its switches and routers, a new tool designed to help make the business case for buying into those functions, and a stronger focus on vertical business applications.

Whether its story is resonating with information technology executives is not yet clear. Nevertheless, Cisco executives made their case to eWEEK in a series of interviews this week.

Cisco last month launched the architectural framework for its Intelligent Information Network strategy with the debut of its Service-Oriented Network Architecture—an effort to raise its stature in the eyes of enterprise IT executives from that of a network box or plumbing provider to a systems solution vendor, and the company is taking that strategy to all of its business units.

SONA, which describes the integration of advanced services into the network fabric, is about helping IT reduce operating costs and at the same time give customers a good reason to spend more of their budget on Cisco technology.

"They have saturated the market at the enterprise chassis level. They need to continue to evolve so that were in a position to spend more dollars with them," said Lev Gonick, CIO at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

"When voice moved to the [IP] network we were able to converge our engineering and management teams to reduce significantly the personnel [required], and it let me rationalize my spend for what was two separate organizations," he added.

As part of a project with Cisco to implement voice over IP and wireless, Gonick worked with Cisco to justify the project to management using an ROI calculator that Cisco uses internally and plans to make available to customers.

The Network Multiplier tool, due out within the next two months, allows users calculate the different cost savings that different approaches to solving the same problem can yield, according to Christine Falsetti, director of enterprise marketing at Cisco in San Jose, Calif.

"Im not sure Id buy it, but Im all ears if its free," Gonick said.

Falsetti is leading an effort to develop architectures for six vertical markets that incorporate different SONA layers and address the workflow specific to those verticals.

For example, the first such architecture will address health care and take into account workflows between hospitals, remote doctors offices, pharmacies and insurance companies.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about Ciscos Application Network Services initiative.

Some members of the health care industry may require further persuasion.

"We were heavy users of VLANS [virtual LANS] to segment our traffic and secure our resources," said Kent Hargrave, formerly the CIO of Overlake Hospital Medical Center, in Bellevue, Wash., and currently a senior vice president at M2 Information Systems, a medical software company in Edmonds, Wash.

He had begun discussing SONA with Cisco shortly before leaving his post as a health care CIO a few months ago.

"Having SONA to help manage my network may be viewed as one more level of sophistication that I did not need. Some places that have a more bandwidth intensive network or a network that has been built in silos could benefit from SONA, but it really sounds like a nice new acronym for VLANS."

Additional architectures will focus on retail and education next, and then financial services, manufacturing and government.

Next Page: Realigning the sales force.