Cisco Spotlight Series: Applications are the network's future

A Cisco strategist says to survive, network admins will need more business savvy and application expertise, and tells why XML is part of the vendor's short- and long-term plans.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- As the dominant enterprise networking vendor, Cisco Systems Inc. has a vested interest in every new technology and concept in the industry. Needless to say, keeping all its strategies in synch isn't easy.

That job falls largely to Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, Cisco's senior director of product and technology marketing. SearchNetworking.com spoke with Beliveau-Dunn recently about the impact of intelligent networking, the changing roles of network admins and the future of XML on the network.

In your nine years with Cisco, what's been the biggest change you've seen in the routing and switching market? 

Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn: Networking has really evolved from being about protocols and routing to being about applications. That, I think, has been the biggest change over the last 20 years. It's a major shift for customers, networking vendors and software firms in terms of how the network is leveraged.

Why?

Beliveau-Dunn: There were too many layers to go through to get information. Everything was only available at company headquarters at a certain desk. That wasn't good for companies; it slowed them down in terms of serving customers and providing data to people around the world. That's why businesses have turned to the network and Cisco's model to help them transform how they service customers and access information.

How do you see the role of the network administrator changing, specifically the job description?

Beliveau-Dunn: It will change dramatically I think. Networking specialists are already becoming much more business savvy because as they become aware of the impact applications are having on the network, and as they start to see the marriage of those elements, they're going [to need] to have more conversations with people across the IT aisle to help them justify what they want to do with the network.

As we at Cisco are becoming more fluent in these other technology areas, our customers are starting to have conversations with other groups in their companies about how to bring these elements together and how the business needs the network to perform. It'll be essential to work with people in these other technology areas to develop more comprehensive end-to-end plans for the business.

One of Cisco's major emphases has been the "intelligent" network. Can you provide an example of how a more intelligent network aids network administrators?

Beliveau-Dunn: All our customers set up VPN services from one office to another. In the past, if you were a client of ours, you had to individually set up each VPN service between every location, and it wouldn't be very dynamic. It'd be point-to-point. Now, through a greater level of network intelligence, you can use a technology called Dynamic Multipoint VPN (DMVPN) that allows you to set up an end-to-end VPN in a mesh format—from any location to any location—and tear it down when it's done.

With DMVPN, you can immediately save on operational costs and the complexity of setting up these secure connection points between offices. Now you're only paying for that VPN service when it's being used. Plus, if there are more logical ways for the network to connect two points, it can go through multiple routes. In the past they were for data services only, but now they're available for voice services as well.

Does network intelligence encourage or discourage commoditization of the network?

Beliveau-Dunn: We don't think of commoditization as something that's really happening. We think it's more about the simplification of a very complex thing. Because customers are adding more and more to the network and demanding more out of it, it's actually keeping the value of the network very high. At the same time, we don't want intelligence to equal complexity; we want it to equal simplicity. We're trying to make the network self-managing and self-provisioning to make network operations simpler than in the past.

Some might say Cisco's intelligent network strategy is simply part of a plan to encourage customers to build end-to-end Cisco networks. What's your response?

Beliveau-Dunn: The intelligent network is a strategy that allows us to offer the best possible value out of the network and offer that to our customers. We recognize that customers want choices. They look at Cisco as the leader, but we make sure all of the things we do adhere to as many standards as possible and work with as many standards bodies as possible to ensure that, at the end of the day, we offer an open environment.

Will the intelligent network concept reduce networking costs?

Beliveau-Dunn: Our end users are seeing about 30% of their network costs going toward capital expenditures and about 70% going toward operations. What Cisco is trying to do is to add the right level of intelligence and simplicity to help remove costs. We hope to drive down operational costs significantly by applying our vision of intelligent networking into every aspect of our products.

Can you offer a case in point?

Beliveau-Dunn: Voice is a good example. Customers have environments where they are moving people from location to location, and if they have to call their service providers each time they have to set up a new line, then that costs them money. If they have a VoIP system with embedded network intelligence, they can do that themselves and it takes seconds to configure it.

Nothing is being hyped by vendors more than 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Is it justified?

Beliveau-Dunn: It definitely is of growing importance. Cisco has seen significant growth all the way through the access layer and distribution layer. A couple things are driving it. One is application performance, and another is the cost of having multiple Gigabit uplinks versus a 10 Gigabit uplink. The price points for 10 Gigabit are becoming attractive enough so it makes sense for companies to make the transition.

It's been reported that Cisco has plans to integrate XML management into its routers. What is Cisco's strategy in terms of handling XML traffic?

Beliveau-Dunn: We have not discussed a complete XML strategy. I will tell you it's part of our application-aware networking initiative. Clearly, we are going to be working with Layer 4-7 application layer technologies to help provide better security, management and policy control. I can't tell you what we're doing, but we will be touching more of the application layer.

Do you consider XML to be part of your short-term or long-term product strategy?

Beliveau-Dunn: Both.

It's been debated what part of the network infrastructure should be responsible for managing XML traffic. What's Cisco's take?

Beliveau-Dunn: We look at it being a choice between either a hardware issue or a systems issue. We think it's a systems issue—middleware- and software-level solutions. For the most part, XML is about applications and providing some kind of standard method for applications and middleware to communicate. Cisco believes that XML is growing as part of a core software strategy, though not as fast as people may have predicted. But we believe it's going to have more significance as companies integrate applications and integrate their systems with those of their partners.

This was first published in August 2005
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