Cisco RTP fully engaged in service provider R&D

A little more than a year after disbanding its IBM product development and marketing operations here, Cisco Systems has made a full transition to service provider research and development.

Of the 350 engineers and marketers working on IBM SNA products in Cisco's former IBM Interworks division, only 50 are now doing so. And they're working on "featurettes" to sustain the installed base of Cisco's SNA products.

The other 300 are now working on packet telephony, mobile wireless and security products for service providers, and "inside" sales, which assists Cisco channel partners in turning leads into new sales.

"We're serious about this business and the service provider opportunity," says Ed Carney, who assumed the role of site executive at Cisco's RTP facility 14 months ago, succeeding Selby Wellman, who stepped down after five years and a wildly successful tenure overseeing the IBM Interworks business unit.

Carney knows intimately about the service provider opportunity because in addition to managing the RTP facility, he is vice president of Cisco's Networked Solutions Integration Test Engineering (NSITE) laboratories. NSITE is a US$200 million, 20,000-square-foot lab that emulates a central office and puts service provider systems through their paces.

The NSITE lab surrounds Cisco routers, switches, servers, cable headends, DSLAMs and dial access gear with $25 million worth of non-Cisco telecom equipment -- signal transfer points, Class 4 and 5 switches, digital cross connects and PBXs. NSITE personnel configure central office systems to the specifications of service providers and then deluge them with 250,000 calls per minute from a bank of analog call generators.

"I break it, my team breaks it, and my customers don't," Carney says.

Cisco conducts 2,600 test-case scenarios every 24 hours in the NSITE lab, Carney says. Over the past two years, NSITE tested CO system configurations from 150 service providers from all over the world, he says.

NSITE is the only Cisco lab of its kind in this hemisphere and only one of four at Cisco. Others are in Reading, England; Brussels; and Sydney.

But analysts say the quarter-billion-dollar lab is the price of entry into the service provider realm. Cisco will have to show service providers a lot more in order to win their trust and business since focusing aggressively on this market in 1995.

"The thing that really separates (enterprises and service providers) is the amount of support that you give them, the amount of ease by which you product can be tailored to their needs," says Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects in Washington, D.C.

The task is not lost on Cisco, especially when focusing on incumbents and the RBOCs after initially targeting alternative service providers six years ago.

"The first thing we need to do is earn the right to do business with them, earn credibility and their respect," says Bill Nuti, Cisco senior vice president in charge of worldwide service provider operations. "I think our message resonates pretty well."

That message includes developing a business case for introducing new IP and packet-based data services and infrastructures into a proven, revenue-generating network that incumbent LECs and IXCs depend on. Another is helping them bring new services to market.

"We know a lot of what the enterprise wants, so we talk to service providers about what's top-of-need for enterprises," Nuti says.

And enterprises want mobile wireless services that enable them to maintain sessions as they roam from wireline to a variety of wireless networks. They also want Session Initiation Protocol-based packetized voice services that open up a slew of advanced IP telephony applications.

At RTP, Cisco is developing mobility software that enables roaming and session integrity between wireline Ethernet and wireless IEEE 802.11 and Global Packet Radio System (GPRS) LAN and WAN networks and network operators. For example, an FTP download begun while a laptop was attached to an Ethernet LAN can be resumed from the point of disconnection if the user unplugs and roams from the Ethernet LAN to an IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN, and then to a GPRS WAN.

Session integrity is enabled by Mobile IP client software on the laptop, and "home agent" and "foreign agent" software on a Cisco router. The home agent knows the "wired" profile of the mobile user and keeps corporate data resources available to this user by continually registering with the Mobile IP client.

A mobility binding table in the home agent keeps track of the DHCP-assigned IP addresses leased by the mobile user. The foreign agent software links the changing DHCP "care of" addresses with the mobile user's home IP address so the home agent always knows where the mobile user is.

Cisco is also developing several wireless content networking products designed to route and present content based on the wireless device used for access, such as a cell phone or PDA. These products can compress, deliver and present content based on the connection speed and the wireless device type, form factor, operating system and browser, Cisco says.

On the packet telephony side, Cisco is developing SIP gateways to enable its current H.323 customers to accept SIP calls. SIP gateways are already supported on Cisco platforms ranging from the 2600 series router to the AS5400 series access server, and will soon be added to the 1750 series router and 5850 series access server, company officials say.

SIP will enable a new breed of applications that H.323 is not optimized for, such as conferencing services, voice mail and three-way calling, Cisco officials say. H.323 is based on ISDN and the public switched telephone network models, while SIP is built around the Internet and has better support for e-mail and HTTP content, they say.

Getting service providers to drink from SIP may be a tall order, as the technology is just beginning. To date, four providers -- China Unicom, iBasis, ITXC and Genuity -- have each carried at least 1 billion H.323-based VoIP minutes, 90 percent of which were in the past year.

China Unicom, Cisco's largest VoIP carrier, has transported more than 3 billion VoIP minutes to date.

Cisco is currently working with 10 of its customers for SIP deployment over the next month, says Tim McCracken, a product manager in Cisco's packet telephony division here.

Of the RTP activities and Cisco's recent reorganization around centralized engineering and marketing, Nuti says: "We're much more confident in our ability to bring products to market."

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