Cisco's top five challenges for 2007

Phil Hochmuth predicits the networking giant's direction

Network professionals always need to have an eye on what Cisco is up to. Here are five key developments Cisco will be spearheading in the year ahead.

1 A greater push to modularity and virtualisation

As Cisco fleshes out the details of its Service Oriented Network Architecture (SONA) initiative expect it to offer more network products that introduce elements of virtualisation. The goal is to make network services and applications easier to add, turn on and maintain on individual Cisco switches and routers. Changes in the way Cisco sells packages of IOS software, hardware and support could also be in the offering. Cisco says it wants to decouple IOS from its routers and change its software pricing system from a maintenance-based model to something more closely resembling a traditional software company.

2 Video barrage

“Telepresence is my favourite new technology,” says Cisco chief executive John Chambers. So expect to hear more about this combination of 60-inch HD plasma screens, high-definition IP

videoconferencing, acoustic technology and special conference room furniture this year. All of this makes a Telepresence session seem as if remote participants are sitting across the table. Cisco will continue to push this technology and integrate it with its unified communications and VoIP platforms as the killer app to come for businesses.

3 The Supervisor 1440

Cisco’s flagship enterprise switch, the Catalyst 6500, is way behind its competitors in terms of terabit-scale switching capacity and 10G Ethernet port density. Expect to see an upgrade to the Catalyst 6500’s Supervisor 720 module, which offers 720Gbbit/s of total switching capacity (compare this to Force10, Foundry and Extreme switches, which scale to 1Tbit/s and up). Reports say Cisco has been working on a Supervisor 1440 module for over a year and sources say this blade — which, theoretically, would double the Catalyst 6500’s performance to 1.4Tbit/s — has experienced engineering delays.

4 Foreign expansion

Cisco closed 2006 by expanding its research and development facilities in India and China. Chambers has said Cisco will move ten of its top executives to India and Asia as it looks to bolster its presence in the region and tap the enormous amount of engineering talent there, as well as compete with Asian rival Huawei Technologies, which has its sights set on becoming the Cisco of the East.

5 Cisco versus Microsoft, Nortel and IBM

Cisco and Microsoft have always had a tricky relationship as their infrastructure products are arguably the most prominent in any company. Cisco has used Microsoft’s server platforms for many of its VoIP and network management products, while most Microsoft Windows machines talk to each other over Cisco networks.

In 2006, Microsoft and Cisco continued to push their differing views on network access control: Cisco with is Network Admission Control scheme and Microsoft with its Network Access Protection plan. But the gloves came off when Microsoft and Nortel announced an ambitious partnership in which they will co-develop VoIP and messaging applications, with Nortel voice and Microsoft messaging and server software becoming tightly coupled. Cisco will have to counter this potential messaging/computing behemoth either through new products or partnerships.

At the same time, Cisco’s SONA initiative will continue to cause friction with IBM and other vendors setting their sights on revamping corporate datacentres. Cisco wants to move more intelligence into the network layer; this means processes and applications must move from somewhere else — namely, stuff that once ran on servers in the datacentre.

XML and application-layer messaging, server process offloading, and virtualisation of datacentre resources are all common issues that IBM and Cisco will play tug-of-war over in 2007.

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