Cisco Motion, Mobility Services Engine stir up excitement, criticism

Cisco Motion's new Mobility Services Engine for fixed-mobile network convergence may have open source features, but it's still tied to Cisco's WLAN components, partners say.

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Since Cisco last week unveiled the Cisco Motion open source platform that manages applications and devices across wired and wireless platforms, partners are hoping the vendor is moving away from its proprietary roots. But they have some concerns about the technology itself.

Partners and analysts note that the Cisco Motion hardware-based platform, called the 3300 Series Mobility Services Engine (MSE), is tied almost solely to Cisco's wireless local area network (WLAN) components instead of working with the mixed technology that often makes up a network.

"It looks like Cisco is stating that their solution only works on their LAN controllers and access points. What's good about that?" asked Wayne Ianaurio, vice president of sales at Relational Technology Solutions, a value-added reseller (VAR) based in Rolling Meadows, Ill. "There is going to be a lot of mixed infrastructure in campus environments."

While most analysts briefed on the MSE raved about it, a few also noted its inability to tie into diverse network components.

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"I think you'll see competitors," said analyst Craig Mathias of Farpoint Group, adding that the competition will not likely be bound to one brand of WLAN products. Still, he noted that Cisco has come a long way from its strictly proprietary beginnings and has an "exciting product" in the MSE.

Some partners are also unsure how the technology is truly different from Cisco's existing mobile offering.

Cisco launched the Mobility Services Engine as the central part of an overall fixed-mobile convergence initiative called Cisco Motion, which also includes four new software applications. One promises the ability to roam and pass off calls between disparate wired and wireless networks seamlessly. Another offers presence awareness for people and products across these networks. The last two deal with security in connecting mobile devices to networks. The Mobility Services Engine will serve as the middle ground between networks and has open APIs, so partners and independent software vendors can develop customized solutions.

But aside from the open source factor, many of the proposed functions of Cisco Motion already exist in Cisco's Unified Wireless Network strategy -- just not in one central box.

"The messaging and the product offering are difficult to understand," said Gary Berzack, chief technology office and chief operating officer of New York City-based Cisco partner eTribeca. "I'm expecting this to be a replacement for a controller -- except it's a more robust device to be able to stick more applications on."

Cisco's existing WLAN controller, in fact, manages devices and the flow of data and limited applications across networks, and Cisco's overall unified wireless strategy is a stratosphere of devices that enable fixed-mobile convergence.

"My gut [feeling] is they are combining mobility elements that have been owned by separate business units," Berzack said. "It's like they've said, 'It's been three years since we've done anything new [in wireless] -- we better come out with a new strategy.'"

The MSE apparently differs from existing technology because it works above controllers to centralize applications and push them out across networks. The LAN controller itself is not meant to be an applications delivery platform.

"This allows the IT organization to have a centralized location where they are loading and supporting different software services," said Chris Kozup, Cisco's senior manager for mobility solutions. Previously, applications were in multiple locations -- either in controllers or in a separate appliance. Kozup called the process "standardizing" service delivery across networks.

But Ianaurio also called the Cisco Motion initiative a "renaming" of existing technology. He noted that Cisco's current relationship with Nokia was meant to ensure that the handoff between enterprise and public cellular networks happens smoothly. But users complained that the transition was not, in fact, seamless. Ianaurio will wait to see if Cisco's roaming application, developed with Agito Networks as part of Cisco Motion, will be an improvement.

"They are just banking on correcting that," Ianaurio said, referring to the current inability to handoff seamlessly between networks. Competitors, including Siemens (which has a relationship with Nokia for a mobile enterprise offering) and Motorola, already have competing solutions, Ianaurio said.

"This is a way for Cisco to protect its wireless investment," Ianaurio said. He believes Cisco's share of the wireless market -- which the company puts at 63% -- is eroding because of competition.

Neither Ianuario or Berzack have worked directly with the Mobility Services Engine, but Cisco partner Dimension Data worked with Cisco during product development and executives there have a different take.

Nadeem N. Ahmad, director of global technology for wireless and mobility at Dimension Data, said the MSE enables a "mobility network," which means "the network or services are more intelligent." Dimension Data will work extensively with voice and presence applications using the new MSE. Ahmad said the presence awareness across diverse networks is extremely promising for its practice.

The open APIs on the MSE are crucial, Ahmad added. Dimension Data expects to develop truly complete solutions for customers as a result, he said.

Both Ianaurio and Berzack agree that making MSE open is a sign that Cisco is moving in the right direction. The company's past practice of sticking to proprietary designs often frustrated solution providers. In fact, this is the second major open source release that Cisco has made this year. The first was the integrated services router that is also open to third-party development.

"This is an indication that they are going through a different avenue," Ianaurio said. "I think Cisco is committed to that route."

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