ORLANDO, Fla. — Cisco Systems Inc. says it wants more of its channel partners to take the plunge into the content networking space.

In a press briefing Wednesday morning at this year’s Cisco Partner Summit, Mark Leary, the San Jose,

Calif.-based firm’s solutions product manager for content networking, talked about how channel partners can help their customers transform Internet data centres and branch sites into services delivery networks.

Today’s networks need to be smarter — they must be able to handle services such as streaming video and e-learning, Leary said. “”Content networking is not just about bandwidth and connections; it’s about adding more intelligence and making better decisions within the network so that you use those connections better,”” Leary said.

Not that long ago, said Leary, content networking was all about dot-coms and hosting providers. “”We had a lot of activity a few years ago in content networking, focused in around e-commerce — selling sporting goods over the Internet, books over the Internet,”” he said. Hosting providers offered managed and hosting services, as well as higher-speed access to Web sites from their own locations.

Since the disappearance of the dot-coms and the meltdown of hosting providers’ businesses, the focus of content networking has now migrated to internal applications — something Leary called a “”move from mania to mandate.””

A company might now have new internal business goals which drive its IT department to look for ways to provide e-learning or better customer care sites, for example.

“”Probably 60 to 70 per cent of the enterprise is focused in on purely internal applications or, at best, extranet applications,”” explained Leary. “”Business partner access, improving worker productivity, partner satisfaction — those are all things that we’re seeing a lot more activity in these days.””

Organizations moving in this direction need networks that can effectively manage increased demand, Leary said, adding that bottlenecks will occur once increasing numbers of people start accessing internal applications faster, via broadband.

That’s where service providers come into the picture. In late March Cisco introduced a new Content Networking Specialist designation for partners who want to be trained in content edge delivery, distribution and management, switching, routing and intelligent network services.

Initially, partners won’t have to push content networking products as a solution, said Leary. A customer might just start out with one product and move on from there, depending on the needs of the organization.

“”This isn’t about necessarily buying a whole bunch of stuff from partners with complex configuration for the end user,”” he said. Although some of the products have a whole “”laundry list”” of load balancing functionality, “”most users will start with only three or four of the features.”” The content networking partner will help the customer understand what features are the most important ones to start with, taking into consideration staff requirements and budget constraints.

Leary said the opportunities for content networking service providers will cut across many different vertical markets, including manufacturing, transportation and retail.

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