Channel Marker

May 22 2007   7:55PM GMT

Interop reporter’s notebook: Cisco pushes forward, while being flanked by competitors

Brein Matturro Profile: Brein Matturro

In the long term it’s often developments from small companies that end up being the most interesting to debut at major industry trade shows like Interop, which is under way in Las Vegas this week.

But the headlines always focus on tussles among the big players, and this year is no exception.

Microsoft Corp., for example, grabbed some of the spotlight by announcing it had joined forces with the Trusted Computing Group (TCG) to create a specification that will allow each company’s network access control (NAC) products to work well together.

TCG creates open-source security protocols, and has tied together the NAC products of a number of vendors to make multivendor NAC implementations easier to create and manage – giving Microsoft’s participation proportionally greater weight than would have been the case if it had signed up with just one other vendor.

Cisco, the major power in anything to do with networking in the U.S., wasn’t part of the agreement, and wasn’t talking much about NAC, either.

Cisco focus: build more on the network

Instead, Cisco CEO John Chambers opened the conference with a typically razzle-dazzle keynote that focused on the opportunity collaborative technologies bring to the networking and computer industries.

Web 2.0 technologies such as unified communications, instant messaging, voice-over-IP, high-end teleconferencing and location services will bring with them increases in productivity that will equal those the Internet delivered during the ‘90s, he said. (Cisco Blog: Cisco To Increase Customer Collaboration Benefits)

“I think this is an instant replay of over a decade ago,” he said during the presentation. “This is not of the first phase of the Internet, which took 12 to 15 years to develop within businesses. It’s the second phase, that our children are already developing.”

The opportunity for channel companies lies in the statistics Chambers cited – from Cisco’s own research:

  • 40% of the workforce carries laptops or cell phones;
  • but one in five companies doesn’t allow remote access;
  • only three in five companies monitor wireless threats (“That’s a train wreck waiting to happen,” Chambers said.;
  • three out of four have no coherent instant messaging strategy.

Those percentages will have significantly changed by next year as customers become more sophisticated about how to build, maintain and use wireless networks to change the way their businesses operate, Chambers predicted.

Cisco announced a new version of its Unified Wireless Network Software as well, with a feature designed to track people or objects by tagging them with a WiFi beacon, and placing receivers at “chokepoints” like main doors and hallways.

The Cisco Location Solution that powers the system can raise alarms when a particular tag strays out of its designated area, collect traffic data to get a better handle on how heavily assets are used, or simply help locate an important machine.

“40% of the time in a hospital environment you look for a piece of critical equipment, and you can’t can’t find it,” Chambers said. “It’s there, they just don’t know where it is.”

Competition sneaking up   

Two of the pillars of Cisco’s plans for the future are getting more competition, however.

Avaya Inc. announced a new VoIP system designed for branch offices that need IP telephony services more sophisticated than those available from products designed for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB), but not as sophisticated as one designed for large companies.

The Intelligent Communications System for Branch Offices puts call processing and most of the rest of the work on a box installed in the branch office, keeping traffic off the wide-area network and off the central IP server as well.

It also announced a partnership with Netgear Inc. under which the two will produce a VoIP product designed for companies of fewer than 20 employees.

The system puts call control and processing in the phones themselves, rather than in a central phone server or PBX. Netgear supplies the switches, Avaya provides the IP telephony technology.

HP edging deeper into channel 

More quietly, Hewlett-Packard Co. continues to make inroads in Cisco’s core routing and switching market, largely based on the “open” terms under which it signs and supports channel partners, according to Wenceslao Lada, VP and general manager,
Americas for ProCurve Networking.

“If we have three partners in [the] education [market] an area, we don’t tell one of them ‘You’re  our preferred partner for education, so you get the sales leads and recommendations and the better pricing, and you other two have to go into some other area,’” Lada said.

Lada admits it’s easy to avoid conflict among channel partners “when you’re 5% of the market,” rather than a market-dominator like Cisco. But having fewer partners, and refusing to sign a new partner that would conflict directly with an existing partner, gives each channel partner a clearer shot at any business than “three Cisco VARs who can’t compete on product, so they have to do it on margins and services.”

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