Archive for 2011

This is an area where Cisco has really struggled over the past decade, but the company is at least talking the right talk right now.

Earlier this month Cisco held its annual Collaboration Summit and made sure the Cius tablet was front and center at the event. Many of the Cisco employees were carrying the tablet and many of the partners that were in the expo hall used the Cius as a method of demonstrating their products. While I think Cisco has done a good job with the design and positioning of the corporate first tablet, its ultimate success will be determined by the applications that can run on it. This requires building a quality developer program that makes it easy and worthwhile for developers to build applications for the tablet. This is an area where Cisco has really struggled over the past decade, but it appears now that Cisco Developer Network (CDN) is headed in the right direction.

The concept of the developer network isn’t foreign to Cisco. It’s something they’ve tried for years in a number of product categories. Cisco’s first attempt at a developer program was something called CTDP (Cisco Technology Developer Program) that was started when Cisco acquired a company called Metreos. Metreos can be thought of as a middleware development layer that sat above the VoIP infrastructure and allowed third party software companies and in house developers to build applications to run on Cisco IP phones. The concept was right but the execution was poor. Many of the developers I interviewed at the time wanted to work with Cisco because of the company’s market leading share in IP telephony, but complained about how Cisco continually changed APIs without any warning to the developers, had inconsistent testing methodology which was also expensive, and didn’t really do much to help the ISVs promote their software products. So this limited the appeal of CTDP to a few niche ISVs and in house developers.

The appeal has nothing to do with VoIP, but has to do with video interoperability.

Earlier today Cisco posted a blog that indicated the company is appealing the European Commission’s approval of the Microsoft/Skype merger to the General Court of the European Union. The blog also indicated that Messagenet, an Italian Service Provider, has joined Cisco in the appeal.

Contrary to what one might think, the appeal has nothing to do with VoIP, but has to do with video interoperability. As Cisco stated in their blog, their goal is to “make video calling as easy and seamless as an email is today. Making a video-to-video call should be as easy as dialing a phone number.”

Frankly, this should be the goal for the entire video industry yet, despite advancements in this area in the last couple of years, we’re still light years away from achieving this. Solving this problem would be greatly beneficial to the entire video industry and would create a “rising tide” that would lift all the boats. Metcalf’s Law states the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected end points. More connected end points means more value. The video industry has many end points but they’re all in independent islands, so the value remains limited.

This distinction between portable and mobile was at the heart of the demo that Cisco gave. The demo showed people working on any collaboration tool over any device from anywhere to anyone.

This morning kicked off the first day of Cisco’s annual collaboration summit. The keynote was given by Barry O’Sullivan, who gave us a nice history of innovation followed by a demo with Barry and Sean Curtis (*gasp* not Jim Grubb!!) where they showed what collaboration in a post PC world looks like. It was a slick demo where Cisco showed workers collaborating over a variety of Cisco and non Cisco devices (I didn’t see any Microsoft devices…hmmm ) using a combination of tools such as video, web conferencing, chat, presence, etc. This demo was one of the better ones that I’ve seen in a while and is being driven by a shift to true mobility–not just portability (and I’ll explain the difference).

Video might finally be at the point where it acts as a rising tide that should lift most boats–competitors’ as well as Cisco’s.

Last week Cisco held a couple of industry analyst and press roundtables to celebrate the 5th anniversary of it’s TelePresence solutions. Now, TelePresence itself is much more than five years old. The first commercially available product was launched in the mid 90s from a company called Teleport, which became Destiny Conference that Polycom acquired in 2007. Even after that, Marconi had a cool product called VIPR, and HP of course, had Halo. But it was Cisco that evangelized the space and made TelePresence a household term (well, at least for us geeky folks).

I remember the first time I experienced TelePresence. It was in one of the Cisco buildings (10 I think) and Ron Davis, the Cisco AR person for it at the time, convinced me to try it out. I walked into the room, rolled my eyes and thought to myself that the last thing I wanted to see was another video conferencing solution. After just a few minutes though I really did appreciate how different it was from the other traditional video solutions that I had used. And the rest, shall we say, is history.

Despite the on going feud between Cisco and HP, the two IT giants put aside their difference and jointly collaborated to co-engineer a Cisco Fabric Extender (FEX) blade that will be the network inside an HP BladeSystem chassis.

There are certain expressions we use in life to describe situations that are so improbable that the issue we are talking about will likely never happen. Expressions such as “when Hell freezes over” and “when pigs fly” are a couple of them. In tech, we could have used the expression “When HP and Cisco work together” as our own version of this as the two companies have become bitter, mortal enemies. The Procurve group at HP spends most of its airtime describing why Cisco is too expensive. In fact, I was at an HP customer event a few months back (not as an analyst, I went with a few IT people I knew) and the HP presenters spent 90% of the time just bashing Cisco instead of talking about their own products.

Huawei has been a disruptor in the telecom market for years but remained only a perceived threat to enterprise infrastructure suppliers. Huawei’s broad portfolio coupled with it’s quality engineering gives Huawei a better than punchers chance of becoming a dominant enterprise vendor. Most enterprise buyers will likely stay with their incumbent vendors in the short term but Huawei’s massive size and scale make them a long term threat to the status quo.

Taking center stage at Interop last week was industry veteran John Roese. Those of us that have been around the industry for a while recognize John as one of true industry thought leaders and associate his name with companies such as Nortel and Enterasys but had gone radio silent over the past couple of years. Well Mr. Roese reappeared at Interop New York but this time sporting a name badge that listed him as VP and GM of Huawei’s North American Enterprise business and they’ve aimed their crosshairs at the mighty Cisco.

Cisco will be leveraging the Citrix remote access protocols to optimize the performance of VoIP and IP video traffic in a virtualized desktop environment.

Virtual Desktop (VDI) technology has been around a long, long time. Way back in the day, before my analyst days I actually worked for a Citrix reseller and did a fair number of virtual desktop deployments, although it was known as “thin client” technology at the time. Since then VDI has evolved by leaps and bounds, and things that were problems such as local peripheral support and printing are no longer issues today. However, through it all, the one thing that has remained an issue for VDI, limiting its value proposition, is multimedia applications–most notably voice and video. As VDI becomes more mainstream, overcoming these issues would be significant for Cisco whose enterprise business, in many situations, is led by voice and/or video. Network may drive more revenue, but it’s often led by a collaboration sale.

To solve this issue, Cisco released a new Linux based VCX VDI (VCX 6215) appliance and formed a strategic partnership with Citrix. The 6215 has a built in media engine to process multimedia traffic at the endpoint itself to improve the quality of experience. Additionally there is a VCX 4000 software load that runs on Windows PCs for organizations that do not want to use the appliance. The alliance with Citrix is designed to optimize the delivery of multimedia to branches over the corporate wide area network. Cisco will be leveraging the Citrix HDX remote access protocols to optimize the performance of VoIP and IP video traffic in a virtualized desktop environment.

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