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Cisco chief predicts a connected universe, with Cisco at its heart

Kevin Fogarty, News Director

Cisco Systems Inc. is counting on many more quarters of continual growth, and will rely for that growth on the demand by consumers to be able to conduct business, read email, and watch video for entertainment and educational value anywhere, any time.

In his keynote address this morning at Cisco's C-Scape press and analyst conference, Cisco CEO John Chambers reiterated his commitment to networked video and telepresence as key to the company's development over the next 12 to 24 months.

But the more ambitious prediction was that, over the next 10 years, Cisco would be able to virtualize the entire data center so that every computer, processor, disk and other computing resource would be available from a data center cloud. Those components would be connected by a networking backplane that could use processing power from chips

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on one computer, memory on another and disk space somewhere else, according to Charlie Giancarlo, Cisco's chief development officer.

"For the first time it would really mean that the network would be the computer, because the network would be right there, connecting the elements of the computer," he said.

Giancarlo, speaking immediately after Chambers' talk on vision and market direction, filled out more of the company's technical plan for the next few years.

The ubiquitous-network design plays into the Services Oriented Network Architecture (SONA) plan Cisco announced last year, but expands it to put more intelligence and bandwidth on the network.

Virtualizing the data center is a major step necessary to make that kind of flexibility possible, as is the ability for telecom service providers to share user-authentication data, billing data and services, Giancarlo said.

The company is building what Giancarlo called a service exchange framework, a central information-sharing environment that will allow telecom and communications service companies to give customers access to their own services no matter where they are.

Network convergence -- the ability for one service provider to create a service and make available not only to its own subscribers, but to other providers' customers as well -- "is a major competitive advantage," he said.

Video and telepresence, which Chambers described as his new favorite technology, occupied most of Chambers' part of the morning program.

He introduced a new digital media manager device designed to store and route video across a corporate network, and allow network administrators to easily manage them.

The hardback-book-sized device can access libraries of videos and define displays in the lobbies and lunchrooms and other venues at major corporations, and distribute a separate menu of video options to each.

The video management application that goes along with the device can also put a selected set of training videos on the desktops of employees and change them from a central location.

"More than 60% of our communication is nonverbal, and video will take advantage of that," Chambers said.

Video, however, is only one part of the pictures Chambers is trying to paint.

Universal connectivity -- a goal often cited by tech-company CEOs but so far unachieved -- is inescapable, Chambers said.

Cisco's goal is to build robustness into the networks of large companies, service provders, telecommunications companies and even consumer homes, to allow consumers to log into a network anywhere and securely access any type of data, without knowing whether they are connecting to a telecommunications company's cell network, a local Wi-Fi network, their company's enterprise net or any other available network.

For channel companies that will translate into a continual expansion of both the products to be sold and integrated, and the customers to whom they sell.

Enterprise companies are the most lucrative market, but smaller businesses and homes will become an increasingly larger part of the revenue of the whole industry and of Cisco itself, Chambers said. End users wanting to store content on a secure, reliable network -- often outside their own homes -- access it on any device, and view real-time content such as video feeds of sports events, will drive the market as fast as any large company.

"The most fundamental change in networking is that the people who are driving the technology are not the professionals," Giancarlo said. "It's the actual end users of the technology."

The challenge is to create a network environment where any kind of content can be viewed at any time from any where, at the level of quality the end user demands, Giancarlo said.

That quality will range from the low-bandwidth, low-resolution video appropriate to a cell phone to the high-definition telepresence video Cisco is presenting as the next major collaborative technology for large corporations.

"Video is something that provides a lot of value to users, whether it be digital signage, HDTV, security and surveillance cameras, or nannycams," Giancarlo said.

"Video convergence is the key, whether for purposes of entertainment, collaboration and safety," Giancarlo said.


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