Cisco smartens up the wireless network with Motion platform

Cisco Systems unveiled plans to transform its wireless network equipment into a more integral, intelligent part of the enterprise with its Cisco Motion architecture.

Cisco Systems unveiled plans to transform its wireless network equipment into a more integral, intelligent part of the enterprise with its Cisco Motion architecture.

The centerpiece to the new platform is the Cisco 3300 Series Mobility Services Engine (MSE), an appliance that enterprises can drop into their networks, which will then help manage a variety of mobile devices and applications across wireless and, eventually, wired networks.

Currently, the MSE will support WiFi, but Cisco said the roadmap includes adding RFID, 4G cellular, and other networks in the near future.

"We're adding a new network element to our network architecture," said Ben Gibson, Cisco's senior director of mobility solutions. "A key message here is that wireless networking is not just about connectivity but about the services that run over the network."

The MSE includes an open application programming interface (API) that developers can tap into to provide their applications with context-aware data, such as the location of a particular device, which could then be used, for example, to seamlessly hand off a VoIP call between access points at the ideal time or to track RFID-tagged equipment in a hospital.

"It's a whole new way of looking at provisioning applications on networks," said Craig Mathias, principal analyst with the Farpoint group. He said that Cisco is trying to take components once handled at the application level and bake them deeper into the network itself in order to provide better contextual information and make it more widely accessible to third-party developers.

"I think this is a big win for Cisco," Mathias said.

Cisco announced several partnerships with third-party application vendors that plan to take advantage of the MSE's API. The partners ranged from industry leaders like Nokia, which is working closely with Cisco on phone handoffs, to niche players like Agito Networks, which is tapping into the Motion API to improve its fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) product.

"The MSE provides a trigger directly to our [phone] clients," said Pejman Roshan, vice president of marketing for Agito. "It gives a combined metric, what is equivalent to a link-up/link-down status."

Without MSE, Roshan said, an Agito client had no way of seeing whether a wireless access point was dealing with too much traffic or was encountering other problems. The MSE can send that contextual information to clients so they can determine whether it is best to use a cellular network or an enterprise wireless LAN.

Roshan said the MSE best helps decide close calls where more information is needed.

"It addresses corner cases, and when it comes to customers, I think being able to address corner cases is a good thing," Roshan said. "Our solution works really well, but more information is always welcome."

It is the delivery of this type of contextual data where Cisco is betting it will gain traction.

"The process and delivery method of [contextual] data is very challenging to date. You generally don't have an open API, and they have to pull the data from a variety of sources," Gibson said. "By abstracting out the services layer and giving that openness to the application community, it's going to knock down barriers to deploying more innovative mobility applications in the business."

In addition to the MSE's API, which hooks into contextual information and location-based data, the Motion platform also includes an improved client manager -- which Gibson cited as a major "pain point" for network administrators -- and adaptive wireless intrusion protection.

The Cisco 3350 will ship in June.

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