Top five challenges for Cisco in 2007

What will Cisco be up to in 2007?

Network professionals always need to have an eye on what Cisco is up to. Here are five key developments Cisco will be spearheading in the year ahead.

1. A greater push to modularity, virtualization

As Cisco fleshes out the details of its Service Oriented Network Architecture (SONA) initiative, expect the vendor to offer more network products that introduce elements of virtualization. The goal is to make network services and applications easier to add, turn on, and maintain on individual Cisco switches and routers. Changes in the way Cisco sells packages of IOS software, hardware and support could be in the offering. Cisco says it wants to decouple IOS form its routers, and change its software pricing system from a maintenance-based model to something more resembling a traditional software company.

2. Video barrage

"Telepresence is my favorite new technology," says Cisco CEO John Chambers. So expect in 2007 to hear more about this combination of 60-inch HD plasma screens, high-definition IP video conferencing, acoustic technology and special conference room furniture. All of this makes a Telepresence session seem as if remote participants are sitting across the table. Cisco will continue to push this technology and integrate it with its unified communications and VoIP platforms as the killer app for businesses.

3. The Supervisor 1440

Cisco's flagship enterprise switch, the Catalyst 6500, is way behind its competitors in terms of terabit-scale switching capacity and 10G Ethernet port density. Expect to see an upgrade to the Catalyst 6500's Supervisor 720 module, which offers 720Gbps of total switching capacity (compared to Force10, Foundry and Extreme switches, which scale to 1Tbps and up). Reports say Cisco has been working on a Supervisor 1440 module for over a year, and sources have said this blade -- which, theoretically, would double the Catalyst 6500's performance to 1.4Tbps -- has experienced engineering delays.

4. Foreign expansion

Cisco closed 2006 with expansion of R&D facilities in India and China. Chambers has said it will move 10 of Cisco's top executives to India and Asia as it looks to bolster its presence in the region, tap the enormous amount of engineering talent there, and compete with Asian rival Huawei Technologies, which has its sights on becoming the Cisco of the East.

5. Cisco vs. Microsoft, Nortel and IBM

Cisco and Microsoft have always had a tricky relationship, as the two vendors' infrastructure products are arguably the most prominent in any company. Cisco has used Microsoft server platforms for many of its VoIP and network management products, while most Microsoft Windows machines talk to each other over Cisco networks.

In 2006, Microsoft and Cisco continued to push their differing views on network access control: Cisco with is Network Admission Control scheme, and Microsoft with its Network Access Protection plan. But the gloves came off when Microsoft and Nortel announced an ambitious partnership, where the two will co-develop VoIP and messaging applications, with Nortel voice and Microsoft messaging and server software becoming tightly coupled. Cisco will have to counter this potential messaging/computing behemoth either though new products, or partnerships.

At the same time, Cisco's SONA initiative will continue to cause friction with IBM and other IT and systems vendors with sights on revamping corporate data centers. Cisco wants to move more intelligence into the network layer; this means, processes and applications must move from somewhere else -- namely, stuff that once ran on servers in the data center. XML and application-layer messaging, server process offloading, and virtualization of data center resources are common issues IBM and Cisco will play tug-o-war over in 2007.

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