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.
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.
Realigning the Sales
At the same time, Cisco is realigning its sales force and professional services arm to focus more directly on the applications that drive those vertical businesses, rather than on individual networking categories.
“It is nice when you have one point of contact,” Hargrave said.
“I had two with Cisco; I had my enterprise guy and then I had the wireless guy. Now the enterprise guy could sell wireless, but not the other way around. So I needed to keep my loyalties straight. Having them combined would allow my sales contact to know where I was heading with infrastructure and could possibly help in making wise choices.”
Both efforts are intended to allow Cisco to pitch more system-oriented solutions that address what IT executives care about most.
“Weve been advocating [for Cisco] to build that core competency of the [vertical] domains for enterprise customers,” Gonick said.
“Typically with Cisco its highly variable based on the local talent. Weve been working very seriously with the business solutions group and advanced research and technology group and pushing them to declare a commitment across all vertical solutions—not just boxes and blinking lights.”
The aim is to integrate advanced services into the network fabric.
“Services isnt something we throw on after the fact anymore,” said Gary Moore, senior vice president of advanced services at Cisco. “Its something we build in and design in.”
For example, new compression capabilities from the new Application Networking Services unit are on tap “fairly shortly,” and Cisco this year will deliver new adaptive intelligence functions for its application acceleration offerings that allows network operators to implement and automatically execute traffic shaping policies that adapt to changing traffic flows, according to George Kurian, ANS vice president and general manager.
On the security front, Cisco and Microsoft plan to demonstrate interoperability between Ciscos Network Access Control technology and Microsofts Network Access Protection capabilities in late spring.
Although such efforts were launched well over a year ago, Jeff Platon, vice president of security marketing at Cisco said that Microsofts Vista delays have pushed out the integration efforts.
Cisco in the next two months also intends to roll out additional application services delivery capabilities in the popular Catalyst 6500 switch, according to Marie Hattar, director of switching at Cisco.
The company will continue to fold wireless networking capabilities into its switching architecture, according to Hattar, who said that most of the wireless LAN management appliances that come out of Ciscos wireless networking business unit also will be available as blades for the Cat 6500 and, eventually, other switches in Ciscos portfolio.
“When we bring something to market, chances are itll turn up on the 6500 first, but you can expect us to bring wireless to the edge,” Hattar said.
“The head of our wireless unit [Kathy Hill] is also the head of our switching unit, so obviously there are synergies.”
The company has been working to clarify its wireless LAN strategy since its acquisition of wireless LAN switching startup Airespace Inc. a year ago.
For months the company was pushing two wireless LAN models—the Distributed WLAN Solution, which comprised its incumbent, feature-rich Aironet access points, and its Centralized WLAN Solution, based on Airespaces technology, which involves provisioning and managing thin access points from a central controller.
It was confusing for some Cisco customers, many of whom are used to being told what to do.
“The clients will do what Cisco wants them to do, but given two options, the clients will choose the controller option, and have,” said Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner Inc. in San Jose, Calif.
Indeed, Cisco officials now say the push is clearly toward central control of a wireless LAN, be it from an appliance or from a blade in the Cat 6500 switch.
“In the United States, most of the forward pipeline is using the controller technology,” said Brett Galloway, senior vice president and general manager of the wireless unit, and the former CEO of Airespace.
“The first element was unifying Airespace into the wireless networking business unit. The second element is unifying the wireless portfolio with the Cisco portfolio—to position the network as a service platform.”
In Ciscos Application Oriented Networking initiative, designed to read the content of application to application messages and apply security or performance policies based on that content, Cisco will launch a new release of a financial services-specific implementation that will improve performance.
AON, to date implemented in modules for Ciscos Integrated Services Routers and Catalyst 6500 switch as well as in a newer appliance, will also see a next generation module for the Catalyst 6500 late this year or early next year, according to Stephen Cho, senior director of product management for AON.