Video killed the network star?

In my last newsletter editorial, I suggested that Cisco needed to put more effort into selling its products to businesses and IT professionals, rather than just firing off glib buzzwords. Well, I’ve just returned from Cisco’s mammoth Networkers event in Cannes, and the vendor’s latest video-focused announcements are certainly an improvement – but will Cisco’s new high-tech initiatives deliver value and workable solutions in the near term?

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By  Eliot Beer Published  February 5, 2007

|~||~||~|In my last newsletter editorial, I suggested that Cisco needed to put more effort into selling its products to businesses and IT professionals, rather than just firing off glib buzzwords. Well, I’ve just returned from Cisco’s mammoth Networkers event in Cannes, and the vendor’s latest announcements are certainly an improvement – but will Cisco’s new high-tech initiatives deliver value and workable solutions in the near term? Cisco Networkers is one of the largest events for network professionals in the world; the latest EMEA conference in the heart of the French Riviera, played host to more than 3,000 IT and business staff from across the region. NME will carry a full report on the conference next issue, but the headline message from Networkers 2007 was: video. Cisco reckons video systems will form the next major shift in how organisations use their networks. At the heart of this vision is the vendor’s brand new Telepresence system (the term ‘video conferencing’ appears to have been dropped, thanks to its unfortunate connotations of jerky, pixellated video which breaks up after 30 seconds). Telepresence offers – according to Cisco – high-definition, life-size conferences with no appreciable latency. Telepresence and other high-tech discussion formed one of the two keynote addresses at the show – the other came from futurologist Ray Hammond. Hammond outlined some possible visions of the near and longer term future, including biometric implants, and the advent of machine intelligence. Now, these keynotes are not designed to give in-depth technical information, or to be mundane – no one in the audience would have been amused with two discussions on the finer points of switching technology. But my concern is that in Cisco’s drive to develop its business beyond the conventional network, it is starting to over-reach and move into territory normally given over to politicians and conscience-stricken rock stars. To be fair to the vendor, its executives made clear at every turn that these technological marvels or theories are not panaceas for the world’s ills. But nevertheless there was a very strong social component to the discussion, for an IT company at least. To ignore issues such as carbon emissions – the elimination of which is a key message around Telepresence: no more business trip, no more polluting plane travel – is something verging on the criminal today. But it is still a reach for an IT company to make, even in the days of growing environmental concern. For Cisco, the risk is that by focusing too heavily on these advanced and emerging technologies, rather than its ‘foundation’ business of routers and switches, the vendor may alienate its core customer base – businesses which just want a solid network infrastructure which works. There is a large degree of humbug in these comments – Cisco is such a large company that it can easily tailor its messages to various organisations and customers, and the media. And if Cisco can do something to eliminate wasteful business travel, then in many ways it has a social responsibility to do so. On balance, I think the vendor is getting it about right – certainly at Networkers there was a lot of in-depth discussion of practical network issues, along with dozens of customer case studies and partner demos. Cisco’s strategy seems to be moving away from IT, and even business to a certain extent – its ‘human network’ branding makes that very clear. And the company’s huge R&D effort is to a large extent pointed at the high-tech end of the IT sector. But with a cash-cow the size of Cisco’s core router and switch market, the firm is unlikely to turn its back on the enterprise networking business for some time yet. NME Innovation Awards Nominations are still open for the NME Innovation Awards 2007, but time's running out to enter the Best Wireless Network Implementation and Most Innovative Use of New Technology - both these categories close for nominations on 14 February. More information is available on www.itp.net/nmeawards - send in your nominations now, to avoid missing out. Eliot Beer Editor, Network Middle East||**||

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