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Cisco networking module offers cold, hard cache

Cisco Systems has released a new content engine networking module that enables local caching and delivery of high-bandwidth content.

Cisco Systems Inc. has released a new content engine networking module that enables local caching and delivery of high-bandwidth content without the trouble of setting up a separate box.

The new product folds the functionality of Cisco's standalone product into a router blade. Jeanne Dunne, senior director of marketing with Cisco's content networking group, said the product will be most useful for companies with remote offices that use large data files for streaming media or large databases. With more and more applications becoming graphics intensive, Dunne said that an increasing number of companies can benefit from the bandwidth savings that caching provides.

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San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco's content engine stores the large graphics-intensive portions of programs locally, so that when an employee accesses a file, only the changes in data will have to travel across the local area network or the wide area network, thereby boosting the quality of the user experience and avoiding bandwidth clogs.

Jim Runnels, senior network manger in an Indianapolis office of San Antonio-based voice and data service provider SBC Communications Inc., has been using Cisco's standalone content engine at his remote offices. The company has so many offices -- they're spread across 13 states -- that SBC has deployed 300 content engines.

Runnels uses the content engine to provide video on demand to SBC's employees. Many users take online courses that range in length from a few minutes to hours. Corporate video messages from executives are also delivered over the network.

At night, when few people are using the network, Runnels sends the video out to the content engines, where it is stored locally. Then employees are sent an e-mail with a link they can click on to view the video the next morning. Since employees access the content locally, everyone can watch the video at the same time without causing the network to crash.

The system allows the company to use its bandwidth more efficiently and to keep its network running, even if everyone needs to view the same information at the same time. Runnels said that the increased use of video allows for more remote learning, which cuts down on travel costs for training.

Runnels has been testing Cisco's new caching module and said that in the next six months he may begin deploying that product as well. With the content engine in the blade, Runnels said it will be easier for his staff to manage the system because the command lines are similar to the Cisco routers and switches he already has in place.

But Peter Firstbrook, a senior research analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group, said that deploying the module may be more complex than simply adding a separate box to the network. Small branch offices may not have the kind of sophisticated staff that it takes to install a router blade.

The other drawback is storage. The router blade is definitely a product for the remote office and not the central office, where content engines need hundreds of gigabytes of storage. The module has only 20 to 40 gigabytes of storage, Firstbrook said.

Despite the benefits of caching, other vendors, such as Inktomi Corp. and F5 Networks, have gotten out of this market recently. Lawrence Orans, a senior analyst with the Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., said that this move by Cisco shows the company's commitment to a market that others have fled.

Cisco has confidence in caching as an important means of moving large data files to multiple sites, Orans said.

The module, which integrates with the Cisco 2600XM, 3600 and 3700 series remote office routers, starts at $3,900.

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