Face to face

Cisco unveiled some key parts of its latest strategy at last month’s Networkers event in Cannes. NME went along to find out how the vendor sees the future of networking.

  • E-Mail
By  Eliot Beer Published  March 5, 2007

|~|debeer200x.jpg|~|“There are multiple video markets – taking us into the home, into the enterprise with video collaboration, and bringing video onto mobile devices.” Marthin DeBeer, SVP for emerging technologies, Cisco.|~|Cisco is in a potentially difficult position. It is indisputably the largest enterprise networking vendor in the world, and hugely successful with it – so far so good. But now every competing vendor in the planet is out for Cisco’s blood, and with its fingers in so many networking pies, any falter on the firm’s part can be seized on as a potential weakness. Seemingly, the only way from here is down. Surprisingly enough, Cisco doesn’t see it that way. It wants to be an innovator, to create a new market – and crucially, to move away from the techie, geeky image of a networking vendor. This reinvention has been in progress for a while now, certainly since last summer, when Cisco gave a series of briefings which placed a lot of emphasis on almost everything but its enterprise divisions. And with the unveiling of its new branding in Autumn 2006 – “Welcome to the human network” – the transformation was well underway. Last month, though, Cisco unveiled much more ambitious plans, at its annual EMEA beanfest – Cisco Networkers, in Cannes for the third time running. The message was simple, and very ambitious: video – high-definition, real-time, life-size – is the future. The vendor had already announced its Telepresence system – a video conferencing system by any other name, but which actually seems to work according to most observers – but Networkers revealed that Cisco sees video everywhere, as part of a wider adoption of IP-based systems throughout people’s lives. Marthin DeBeer, senior vice president for emerging technologies at Cisco, gave a presentation which showed just how seriously the firm is taking its new video offerings. He talked to the audience at his keynote speech about his secretary – “virtual Margaret”, who lives in Dallas, Texas, but still sits at her desk outside DeBeer’s office in California. Visitors to the office see the secretary’s face on a widescreen display, and she will greet them as they come in, thanks to a two-way link; DeBeer commented people are often rather surprised when Margaret reacts to their presence. He made clear that Cisco sees applications such as virtual employees as just part of a wider vision for video systems. “When you look at video from a broad view, there are multiple markets – taking us into the home with triple play convergence, into the enterprise with video collaboration and bringing video and TV onto mobile phones and video security,” said DeBeer at the event. “We believe when you converge those and deliver them as a set of services across the network, this can make dramatic changes to the home environment, to the workplace and also when you’re on the go.” With video applications covering the softer side of IT, DeBeer then used the rest of his keynote to talk about its IPICS (IP Interoperability and Collaboration System) offering. He gave a live demonstration of an IP-enabled sensor reacting to a simulated gas leak, which then triggers a variety of alerts and monitoring system, all through an IP system. What both of these new drives have in common is a strong social aspect – Telepresence is great because people can see each other without flying, and IPICS is great because complicated critical systems will work faster and protect us all.||**|||~|telepresence200x.jpg|~|Cisco CEO John Chambers ‘shakes hands’ with Marthin DeBeer in a recent Telepresence demonstration.|~| Of detailed technical discussions, there was no sign, at least in the keynotes – your correspondent had to wait until a question and answer session in a breakout before DeBeer talked about some of the technical aspects of Telepresence. And technically, Cisco’s new video communications system (its executives look very upset if you call it video conferencing) is a marvel. DeBeer’s team have managed to squeeze 1080p high-definition video (currently the highest specification in regular use anywhere) into less than 6Mbit/s, potentially putting it within the reach of a large number of organisations, or even individuals, around the world. Cisco, though, has decided not to emphasise the technical side of its new achievements. While it clearly remains very proud of its R&D divisions, its upper management team has clearly picked the business route, targeting CxOs and politicians, rather than technicians – in common with many other IT vendors around the world. And yet Cisco is determined to drive its growth through its new high-tech projects. DeBeer said he plans to bring 20 billion-dollar business ideas to market over the next few years, and hopes to see three-quarters of them hit nine digits – a very ambitious plan. Cisco’s move is part of a general trend within IT to move towards the business and away from the pure technology – in this context, it is shrewd. But the vendor’s plan to drive future growth with high-tech offerings is a much more risky proposition; R&D is expensive and never guaranteed to bring a return, unless high standards are maintained. In many ways, Cisco should be feted for being prepared to take this route – it bucks the trend of recent decades to cut expensive research divisions and focus on ‘core’ businesses, leaving these lines exposed when business or technology shifts. In contrast, Cisco is betting on its R&D facilities – and acquisition muscle – having enough momentum to drive growth over the next decade, and beyond. But what is clear from Networkers is Cisco’s focus on proprietary end-to-end systems is still firmly at the heart of its market strategy – with Telepresence, even the room and furniture needs to be made by Cisco. For business leaders looking for ‘turnkey solutions’ and ‘strategic partners’, this may well be very attractive. But for concerned IT and network managers, the end-to-end approach may leave them feeling somewhat exposed. Cisco knows this, and seems quite happy to have its rivals take strategic shares in organisations’ IT infrastructures as the price of selling 80% of the rest of the network. And if the model isn’t broken, the vendor is unlikely to fix it. Next month: NME looks at Cisco’s partners, and how they are working with the networking giant to develop innovative systems.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code