Cisco focuses on end-user experience

Cisco's development teams are focusing more on enterprise and consumer novice users, its executives said

Cisco Systems, the techie's tech company, is learning how to please novice users.

The shift comes as the company both moves into the consumer arena through service providers and its Linksys brand, and tries to give networks a bigger role in enterprise applications that face regular employees, Cisco's development and marketing chiefs said Wednesday at the C-Scape analyst conference in California.

Video has emerged as a prime topic at this year's conference as Cisco absorbs set-top box maker Scientific-Atlanta and aims to equip its service provider customers with the infrastructure for triple-play or quad-play services. Those bundles, including data, voice, video and eventually mobile service, are expected to be the lifeblood of carriers in the future. Along with Linksys consumer gear, they will make Cisco much more of a consumer company, said Charles Giancarlo, Cisco's chief development officer and president of Linksys.

"While I don't expect us to be the equivalent of Sony any time soon, more and more we'll be in front of the consumer, and more and more we'll be certainly in front of the business user, with our phones, with the user interface on the PCs, with Telepresence, et cetera," Giancarlo said.

The Telepresence Meeting system, a high-quality video and audio system Cisco unveiled earlier this year for enterprises, is likely to reach home users within three to four years, Giancarlo said.

Cisco's development approach is changing as the consumer and enterprise worker experience becomes more important, he said. Even network administrators may benefit, as the company is giving its switches and routers the intelligence to do more configuration on their own.

In a wide-ranging, moderated discussion, Giancarlo also laid out some future visions. One area of networking where Cisco has had some holes is the wide-area wireless arena, he acknowledged. The company probably won't go into the radio or cellular equipment business, seeing its role instead as building infrastructure for carriers to deliver the same content across IP (Internet Protocol) to different devices.

Cisco will also take steps this year to flesh out the SONA (Service-Oriented Network Architecture) initiative it announced at last year's analyst meeting. SONA is designed to give the network a greater role in enterprise applications. Much effort in SONA this year will be focused on unified communications, the combination of different forms of IP communications and blending of them with applications, Giancarlo said. Cisco also plans SONA components for mobility and security, he said.

The company, with as many as 90 million consumer devices in homes already, plans a big push in that area at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January, said Chief Marketing Officer Sue Bostrom. She and Giancarlo were vague about whether Cisco will keep the Linksys and Scientific-Atlanta brands alive.

The executives downplayed Microsoft's new competitive threat in unified communications.

"Some people looked at it as a new and powerful entrant coming into the market. I viewed it as five powerful existing players leaving the market. Because I think it said, 'It's all about unified communications, it's not about hybrid PBXes,'" Giancarlo said, referring to the PBXes (private branch exchanges) sold by telephony vendors such as Nortel Networks and Avaya that combine traditional and IP telephony.

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