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Chambers: Flexibility, security key to networking success

Cisco's top executive told an N+I crowd that enterprises should craft their networks around business needs, not vice versa, and said the networking giant is putting a new emphasis on designing security features into its products.

LAS VEGAS -- John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems Inc., said that companies can only reap the benefits of technology investments if they change their business processes to take advantage of new innovations, and that businesses should implement broad network architecture instead of point solutions.

In his keynote address at Networld+Interop 2004, Chambers encouraged enterprises to do a better job of considering how technology changes can help them improve they way they do business.

Citing an in-house survey of 700 businesses in the U.S. and Europe, Chambers said that those organizations that changed their business processes after implementing new technologies achieved a 25% increase in productivity. To his surprise, he said, those that only deployed technology with no process change actually saw a decrease in productivity.

To illustrate the point, Chambers said that Cisco's own efforts to use video conferencing in its in-house e-learning program were originally a failure. Though the vendor saved some money by moving away from expensive in-person classes, it found that employee performance on tests declined. The change had not worked because Cisco was still requiring employees to tune in for training at a required time, Chambers said, instead of letting them take the courses at their convenience. Once it gave them that flexibility, results improved.

Chambers often emphasized that companies need to consider networks as an architecture that supports a broad range of services, an approach that dovetails with Cisco's intelligent network strategy.

The larger vision

Chambers also stressed the need to consider networks beyond their role in supporting individual technologies. VoIP, Wi-Fi and storage have all received attention lately, but he said those technologies fit into a larger vision of how businesses function.

"I think where networking is going is toward an architecture as opposed to pinpoint products," Chambers said.

Cisco has been working to build more security features into networking products, something that must be considered from the product design phase, Chambers said. The company is also bringing Wi-Fi management into its product portfolio with its Wireless LAN Solution Engine.

A single vendor network appealed to attendee Robert Fraser, a member of the networking staff at The Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, Calif., which has an all-Cisco network. Troubleshooting products from one vendor is much easier, he said. "If there are problems, you have one guy to go to," he said.

However, Fraser was not sold on all of the technology that Chambers was pitching.

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"VoIP is just another way for Cisco to sell more equipment," Fraser said. Though his company is deploying a VoIP system, he said call quality was not as good as a traditional phone system.

The long-term strategy

During his keynote, Chambers -- known for his elaborate on-stage demonstrations -- lived up to his reputation. To illustrate the power of a converged network, he showed how a fictional company could use multiple services across one network. Its surveillance system used Internet Protocol cameras, enabling images to be viewed on any network-attached device, including Wi-Fi enabled personal digital assistants. He also demonstrated the Wireless LAN Solution Engine's ability to detect rogues access points, and the company's voice over Wi-Fi phones.

To prove his point that Cisco's product strategy is catering to the market's needs, he pointed to the networking giant's eight consecutive profitable quarters and its continuing ability to pull market share away from its competitors.

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