Cisco to take telepresence to the next stage

LAS VEGAS – Cisco Systems engineers have their work cut out for them according to CEO John Chambers who announced an aggressive plan to introduce a new technology organically every four months.

During his keynote address at the annual Cisco Networkers user conference here, which drew approximately 10,000 customers and partners, Chambers demonstrated one of Cisco’s newest developments — telepresence.

The technology, which Chambers said won’t not be available until later this year, will allow business groups to communicate and collaborate using voice and video conferencing.

“Intelligence between different networks, this will allow new business architectures to set in and provide higher productivity,” said Chambers.

He added that up to 40 to 50 per cent of productivity gains over the next several years will be through collaboration. The idea, said Chambers, is to allow users to interact from anywhere, anytime, using any device.

“I’m asking the engineers to take a Star Trek approach to building telepresence.” It’s a beam me up Scottie scenario, he added.

“We stay where there are network connections to all products. Advanced technology like digital video and telepresence depends on customer response and how they see opportunity for new products,” said Chambers.

For all its new products, Cisco gives a five- to seven-year window for growth, he said.

But according to Zeus Kerravala, vice-president of infrastructure and security research at Boston, Mass.-based Yankee Group, telepresence is interesting but is still a few years away from making it into the mainstream.

One piece that is missing, said Kerravala, is what this actually means for the business. “If you’re an end-to-end Cisco environment, and the network empowers a hospital, how can doctors provide better patient care? How can teachers educate better? How can lawyers handle more cases?” he said.

To tie in the needs of the business, Chambers said it’s important to listen to both CEOs and CIOs and begin to align IT goals with business goals.

“We intend to lead not just in technology, but also in how we redo business models,” he said. One of the company’s goals over the next three to five years, Chambers added, is building an intelligent information network that would combine both business and technology architectures.

“The message around Cisco as a platform, the network getting more intelligent, ubiquitous connectivity, delivering applications anywhere on the network all makes sense,” said Kerravala. “The network does matter and particularly for Cisco, they want the Cisco network to matter.”

According to Kerravala, Cisco’s partnership landscape is changing. “Today it’s a lot of smaller companies that enable Cisco to be Cisco. It’s less so about the big idea and HP and IBM partnerships, although those are important,” he said. “It’s now about finding those smaller vendors with expertise in certain areas that can help them jump into new markets.”

But in response to Microsoft, which competes in the unified communications space, Chambers said, “I have no desire to compete with Microsoft. All we want is to make the network secure and we are open in terms of architecture.”

Although he remained tight-lipped about Cisco’s acquisition pursuits, Chambers added, during a press roundtable, that as consolidation becomes increasingly present in the industry, a partnership with companies like Ericsson or Motorola is a possibility for the future.

In other conference news, Cisco announced enhancements to the its Catalyst 6500 series switches, which has surpassed US$20 billion in sales since 1999, according to Marie Hattar, senior director of Cisco’s network systems marketing.

“We’ve added enhancements to a whole slew of service modules, introduced more comprehensive traffic analysis and capability to monitor virtualized networks,” said Hattar.

In mobility, the company has expanded its unified wireless network solution, allowing customers to effectively roll out an array of new mobility services including security, guest access, voice over Wi-Fi and location-based services.

Cisco also announced the Catalyst 3750G integrated wireless LAN controller that delivers secure, enterprise wireless access to midsize organizations, enterprise branch offices and large enterprise environments where customers prefer to distribute wireless control capabilities.

Both products are now shipping. Pricing for the Catalyst 3750G is US$20,500 for support for up to 25 access points (APs), and US$25,500 for support for up to 50 APs.

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