Interop: Chambers says business success depends on the network

In his keynote this morning at Interop 2005, Cisco's CEO said the technology innovations of today and tomorrow will increase networking productivity, ultimately making businesses more profitable and successful.

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LAS VEGAS -- According to the president and CEO of the world's largest networking vendor, Cisco, business success lies in the able hands of network technology.

This morning's keynote address, given by John Chambers at the Interop 2005, underscored the technology's ability to affect at all business levels. He said new technology innovations will increase networking productivity, ultimately making businesses more profitable and successful.

Chambers said, according to his recent conversations with business executives and other industry luminaries worldwide, CEOs are primarily focused on increasing the speed, flexibility and change acceptance in their organizations, aligning IT with business priorities and coping with short-term financial pressures.

But in order to make their companies more profitable and ultimately more successful, he said companies must use technology to personalize customer interactions.

"If you're a Wal-Mart or a Cisco or a GM, we're all trying to get a bigger piece of our customers' wallets," Chambers said. "I don't think you've seen anything yet in terms of productivity. But it's harder to do the interaction part than the transaction part."

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That improvement will come, he said, when businesses use the world's "network of networks" to their advantage by improving the quality of complicated human interactions, such as providing technical support to customers or hiring an employee.

In his address, Chambers made several references to the health care industry's particular need to advance its use of networking technology. He said because of escalating health care costs and an increasing number of seniors who will rely on an already overburdened U.S. health care system in the coming years, it's urgent for providers to change inefficient underlying business processes.

Chambers said one way companies can do that is with Cisco's new Wireless Location Appliance 2700 device. Announced Monday, the product manages radio frequency identification (RFID) devices and is largely intended to help health care organizations automate the time-consuming, error-prone process of managing patient data.

Mike Whaley, director of IT with the nonprofit nutrition education WIC program, said products such as the 2700 are of great interest to him, as the need to be wireless, secure and more productive moves to the forefront at his organization.

Whaley said his network not only supports 60 clinics across Los Angeles, but also hundreds of employees that register its low-income customer base for health care at sites such as high schools, doctor offices and homeless centers.

"We know our bang for the buck is in increased productivity, but we're not looking to trash our existing architecture investment," Whaley said. "We want a slow integration into [Cisco's] new architecture that's standardizing, condensing and reducing education requirements."

We know our bang for the buck is in increased productivity, but we're not looking to trash our existing architecture investment.
Mike Whaley
director of ITWomen Infant & Children (WIC) Program

Chambers articulated his ideal network architecture vision as one that unifies routing, switching, wireless, IP voice and security technologies. He said Cisco is committed to building networks that can accept new or enhanced functionality simply by adding a line card, but without introducing latency or security problems, can ensure business processes continue uninhibited.

"You've got to be able to go from the data center all the way to the client device, using any combination of networking [technology]," he said.

Chambers also offered a high-level view of Cisco's self-defending networks strategy, which is its multilayered approach to not only securing end-points and network devices, but also to thwarting known and unknown threats such as spam, viruses, spyware and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.

"Your products have to be designed with security built in, not as an afterthought," Chambers said. "Wireless can be just as secure as you want to make it, but you have to at it from an architectural approach."

Chambers also officially unveiled the Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) 5500 Series, a family of multifunction security appliances that provide worm and virus mitigation, protection from spyware and adware, network traffic microinspection, hacker and intrusion prevention, and DoS preclusion.

"Tony," a systems architect with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based semiconductor firm Vihala Inc., said network security is a primary focus for his company, and he believes Cisco's integrated security approach makes sense.

However, he said the best strategy is to push the approach into the network over time, as opposed to a forklift upgrade. "There's always a practical limit on what you can change at any given time," he said.

David Cho, an attendee with a New York-based consulting firm, said Chambers' plea to business managers was savvy, since many of those at Interop are looking for information to help guide their network strategies during the next three years.

Cho said Chambers' effort to encourage technologist to affect their companies' business strategies is wise, because it's the technologists who know the most about what networks and related systems can do, and because business leaders often don't know how to go about purchasing the products and services required to execute their strategies.

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