Cisco announces third phase of NGN strategy

Von Russell Bennett

In the last year, Cisco has taken the first steps towards its new networking paradigm, and spearheaded the driving of this next generation networking (NGN) vision into the marketplace, in the form of its latest Integrated Services Router (ISR).

The most recent announcement to come from the company is dubbed Application Oriented Networking, or AON, and, in conjunction with ISR, this model forms the second tier of a next generation network, which is intended to deal intelligently with recognized and prioritized data streams being delivered efficiently, and based on business policies, rather than simply shifting data packets.

Cisco refocuses

These introductions come in the wake of the Carrier Service Router, or CRS-1, which is recognized as the highest-capacity Internet router ever developed by the Guinness Book of World Records. Systems engineer manager at Cisco sub-Saharan Africa, Willie Oosthuysen, briefly describes the strategy being implemented at the company today.

"John Chambers really has to consider two customers when making strategy decisions. These are the users of Cisco technology, and the stockholders. While users look at technology in 3 -- 5 year cycles, the stock owners work in 12-year cycles, and a successful business decision satisfies both.

"Two things drive both the short and longer-term aims of the company - a technology cycle which cannot be copied and commoditized, and the faith and support of the market itself, making use of the solutions," Oosthuysen says.

Cisco has now been reorganized to focus separately on two distinct markets, to maximize the opportunities of each and drive new successes. These are the more mature and established markets, such as Europe, and emerging markets, like the African continent. This market definition is intended to allow the company to better focus on the key concerns of these very different market sectors, and to strive to satisfy both to the best of its capabilities.

IIN the future of networking

The five-year technology plan which will underscore the continued 12-year financial success of the organization is a series of four phases of networking technology advancements built to end the discussions centering on the price of Cisco routing solutions in a largely commoditized space.

It centers around building the Intelligent Information Network (IIN), which entails building intelligence into the infrastructure itself, to create a more resilient, adaptive and integrated framework for all communications traffic.


The first phase down the IIN path has already largely taken place, under the banner of convergence. According to Cisco, this is building all communications applications, be they network traffic voice, data or video, onto a single IP architecture, with logical networks defined for guaranteed classes of service.

Phase 2 is being put into action in many environments around the globe today, and is known as virtualization. Through these techniques the physical barriers of a system are removed, and system capabilities move outside the box, into virtual hardware environments. Virtualization is used to optimize the inefficient hardware utilization which has been demonstrated in today"s complex environments, and already, with its entry into the storage market, Cisco says that it has taken steps towards optimizing this component.

By virtualizing other key system components, including the CPU and RAM functions, this company aims to create a system bus of the network itself, and to provision the capacity of each.

The company already owns TopSpin switches, which are utilized in the existing grid computing models of other major global players working towards the utility computing vision.

These switches are claimed to be able to provide this function today, and, along with its own R&D and a focused acquisition strategy, Cisco seems to be well positioned in hardware virtualization and provisioning.

"The third phase is application virtualization, and it is this step which is governed and fulfilled by AON. This model will create networks where it does not matter where the application resides. The user will be provided with the right services with the right quality levels, as is already being done today in the case of IPT," comments Oosthuysen.

Once this environment is finalized, the company aims to deliver six months worth of pure hardware planning on, for instance, an SAP implementation, in mere hours. In essence, the client machine should require nothing but an SAP CD in, say, a notebook, with the network dictating the discovery of services, and allocating the necessary virtual hardware on the fly, so as to get the user completely productive in the live SAP environment in a very quick time frame, Oosthuysen adds.

Network visions through partnerships

Delivering the benefits of an enterprise architecture this adaptive will be as simple as plugging an AON module into your ISR at the branch office, and another into a Catalyst 6500 at the data center, Oosthuysen claims.

At launch, AON modules are specifically targeted at two industry verticals, aiming to complement the already packet-aware functions of these routers with message-level business application awareness.

"As one of our key partners supporting the Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA), Cisco is working with SAP to integrate ESA with Application-Oriented Networking to deliver end-to-end solutions for enterprise data centers, branch offices, and small and midsized businesses," says George Paolini, executive vice-president, Platform Ecosystem Development at SAP.

"By combining ESA and AON with SAP Business One, SAP"s solution for small and midsized organizations, we will have the ability to deliver even more significant customer benefits for parent companies and their subsidiaries, such as improved application security, easier application deployment, and even better integration, better business visibility, and network-based policy management," he adds.

"The nature of the enterprise network is evolving from a low-function communication service to a high-function Enterprise Nervous System (ENS). This is changing application design and IT management practices in fundamental ways. In a conventional architecture, intelligent application systems interact through a low-function, fairly "dumb" network. In an ENS-based architecture, by contrast, the network is as intelligent as the applications.

"The ENS offloads logic from the application systems by transforming and redirecting messages and providing other services as appropriate," says Roy Schulte, Gartner vice-president and research fellow.

Business process intelligence at architecture level

The AON model also plays a critical role in the fourth and final phase of this networking re-invention.

This final step will see the definition and enforcement of business policy become a GUI-based operation in an architecture management console, automatically deployed by the intelligence in the network itself throughout the enterprise, adds Schulte.

Says Oosthuysen: "To be able to deploy business processes in minutes, rather than months, we had to look at the limits of application integration technology. Integration interfaces will be the key elements, with one business process often requiring multiple interfaces, and the architecture itself will need to understand them all. While ISR does the traffic routing based on application awareness methods, AON can deliver the security platform needed to safely build such enterprise complexity into the architecture itself."

The two industries being targeted first by AON technology are both real-time and message-intensive. Retail RFID operations will be able to view accurate sales and stock information up to the second with an AON network deployed, while stock traders will be provided with the real-time data on which the business survives by the network architecture itself, he adds.

"These solutions are what CEOs want IT to deliver, right now. If we are able to provide these advanced capabilities, we will move Cisco and our product set right out of the commoditized segment of the networking market, and end all conversations about the price of Cisco routers through the delivery of a clear-cut competitive edge," Oosthuysen continues.

Looking to the future? ISR!

Integrated services routers (ISR) is a key execution component of this architecture, and, as such, the company is recommending that customers deploy ISR solutions now if they are keen to capitalize on the benefits of these Cisco capabilities for the next five years.

"ISR is so key for the future that I suggest to every single one of my clients that, if they are interested in future-proofing their network, ISR is the only choice pure and simple. All the substantial Cisco R&D spend is focused on this platform," comments Oosthuysen.

There is an ISR solution for every organization, and Cisco says that it has released versions of this router for SME customers with functionality very much on a par with enterprise systems, and additional value, such as integrated WLAN capabilities. It can scale from the low to the high-end, offers all the services a branch office could require in a single box, and is the gateway to future Cisco networking innovations, the company adds.

"Cisco"s introduction of the integrated services routers marked its continued commitment to provide customers with a router portfolio engineered for highly secure, wire-speed delivery of concurrent data, voice and video services," says Joel Conover from Current Analysis. "With these new platforms for small offices and a new selection of services including wireless, Cisco delivers to an even broader range of customers the flexibility to choose myriad options, while maintaining a highly secure and resilient network."

Concludes Oosthuysen: "In terms of how businesses will be doing things in the future, our job is to educate the market about what we are doing here at Cisco, so that our customers are prepared to take advantage of this new paradigm."