Cisco revs up competition with '09 blade plans, security

A look at what the networking giant has in store in the New Year

Next year will see Cisco deliver a "Big Bang" in switching, blade servers for the datacentre, high-definition TelePresence conferencing for the home, and a security plan for virtualized and cloud computing environments.

Cisco's switching upgrade will emerge in January and encompass more than just the Catalyst 6500, as initially expected. The emphasis on Big Bang, the code name for the switching upgrade, will be green and apply to Cisco's entire switching portfolio, says Marie Hattar, vice president of network systems and security solutions at Cisco.

"It's an evolutionary capability. It's not a new platform," Hattar said at Cisco's CScape analyst conference recently. "It's really more tied to green capabilities, and how the network really enables those types of capabilities."

Hattar would not divulge any further details on Big Bang, other than to say it will emerge in late January.

Hattar was also tight-lipped on Cisco's intentions in the blade server market. Cisco is reportedly developing a blade server offering, expected in 2009, that will ostensibly compete with IBM , HP and Dell systems deployed for years within datacentres.

IBM and HP have been longtime partners of Cisco's, but observers believe those relationships will be strained if Cisco offers its own blade server system.

Analysts say Cisco's datacentre ambitions will accelerate in 2009 and underscore the company's intentions to become more of an overall IT vendor.

"Can they really make the credible transition to an IT vendor from a networking vendor?" asks Zeus Kerravala of The Yankee Group. "That is their absolute biggest challenge because that gets them into a whole different set of buying criteria."

Adds Rob Whiteley of Forrester Research: "The datacentre is probably going to be the most interesting battle ground (for Cisco). Whatever comes out in 2009 from Cisco is going to be very virtualization-centric."

Also on tap for 2009 from Cisco is a TelePresence virtual conferencing system for the home; and language translation and speech recognition for Cisco's new MXE 3000 media processor, which debuted in early December. The home TelePresence systems will go into trials in the summer and be generally available sometime after that, says Marthin DeBeer, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Emerging Technologies group.

The translation/recognition capability for the MXE 3000, which changes media formats to accommodate different devices and standards, will allow users speaking different languages to engage in videoconferencing sessions with translation.

Next year will also see a "multistage capability" -- including partnering and internal development -- from Cisco to improve security in a virtualized or cloud computing environment. Earlier this year, Hattar spelled out some of the security holes opened up by such environments that could impede widespread adoption of those computing paradigms.

Cisco will unveil security strategies for particular areas of datacentre computing -- including end user endpoint, virtualized device, network level and server virtualization -- as well as a holistic architecture for safeguarding datacentres and cloud computing environments, she said.

"I expect, in early '09, Cisco will finally articulate a cloud strategy," says Forrester's Whiteley. "By the end of '09 I'm expecting to see Cisco put more skin on the game with their own service offering."

Cisco is also looking to leverage the software-as-a-service model for delivering security capabilities, Hattar said, while declining to get into specifics. And Cisco next year will launch an initiative to demonstrate how companies can increase employee productivity through technology during times of economic stress.

"It's times like this when companies have the opportunity to outpace the competition, and when they adopt certain technology they can double, quadruple the productivity," Hattar says. "We're on a path to showcase and highlight those."

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