In another step away from its proprietary roots, Cisco Systems Inc. unveiled a hardware-based mobile applications platform with open APIs Wednesday that will enable solution providers and other third parties to develop custom software.
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The vendor says its Cisco 3300 Series Mobility Services Engine (MSE) pushes applications securely out to mobile devices across Wi-Fi, cellular and wired enterprise networks. That means, for example, a mobile user can access a set of data or applications in the office on Wi-Fi and then walk out of the building, having the functions transfer to the cellular network without interruption.
The MSE is central to Cisco's overall mobile unified communications (UC) initiative dubbed Cisco Motion, which also includes four initial software applications ranging from secure mobile network access to presence awareness.
Cisco Motion aims to extend applications across networks to any device, creating collaborative space even for mobile workers. It claims to securely manage the growing wave of mobile devices and open up development for custom solutions by third parties.
"This is a blank canvas -- the value comes in software that is loaded onto the platform," said Chris Kozup, Cisco's senior manager for mobility solutions.
Cisco Motion is supported by a channel initiative called Partner Motion, which will provide material to train solution providers to identify sales opportunities in the transition to 802.11n wireless technology and teach them to help customers migrate. The plan, which is only open to partners with the Cisco wireless specialization, will also offer a series of incentives, including network assessments, that will encourage customers to migrate.
For channel partners, the open nature of MSE provides a chance to customize solutions and services for specific companies or vertical markets using Cisco technology. Cisco sees this as a chance for systems integrators and independent software vendors (ISVs) to "increase their visibility" and be "viewed as a strategic partner" by their customers, Kozup said.
This is in line with Cisco's strategy to shift from being a hardware vendor to a provider of software and services The company has also spent the better part of this year convincing partners that they will make better money offering services and applications than hardware alone.
"In general the goal for Cisco is to provide the broader platform for application enablement. There are times when it makes sense for us as a company to do that, but there are a lot of times when it makes sense for third parties to do that," Kozup said.
As for Cisco Motion, the company's pitch is to encourage enterprises to move beyond wireless and into business mobility or what could be called collaboration on the run.
"What we're finding is that wireless alone is not the show, but it is how you use that technology to provide mobility," said Nadeem N. Ahmad, director of global technology for wireless and mobility at Cisco gold partner Dimension Data. Dimension was one of the first partners to be briefed on Cisco Motion.
"A wireless network provides data connectivity. A mobility network has services that are more intelligent," Ahmad said. Intelligence means not just sending a voice packet, but examining when it can be sent and which network is best to send it on, for example.
One of the four initial software applications is presence awareness, which can track either users or objects and include crucial information about inventory. Cisco Context-Aware Software, which can read radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, could, for example, track every wheelchair in a hospital or a liquid vial in a drug manufacturing company, reporting its location, exact temperature and whether it needs to be moved.
Cisco Mobile Intelligent Roaming uses intelligence in the network to determine when an application or call on a mobile device should be passed off between networks -- for example from Wi-Fi to cellular for a dual-mode device. The intelligence can determine availability of capacity, interference and other real-time network information.
The last two applications focus on secure mobility -- a growing concern in companies as they stretch to accommodate a plethora of mobile devices. Cisco Adaptive Wireless IPS is an intrusion prevention system that monitors wireless networks for vulnerability. The monitoring can protect against unauthorized access points to avoid wireless hacking. The application also includes radio frequency (RF) monitoring, infrastructure authentication and collaboration between wired and wireless intrusion prevention. Finally, the Cisco Secure Client Manager centralizes security and management of mobile devices.
Cisco is already working with developers and technology partners, including Nokia and Oracle, as well as industry-specific partners like IntelliDOT, a healthcare industry applications company, and OATSystems, an RFID solutions provider.
Though Cisco will begin with a small number of applications developers that "have strong integration," the goal, Kozup said, is to make that number grow.
"We want to walk before we run," he said. "We're working with these folks and defining the model and then increasingly over time we'll be looking for additional partners." Ultimately, he said, it will be open to all partners. These partners will be aided in development by Cisco's existing ISV development programs.
This is the second major step toward opening up to outside developers Cisco has taken this year. In April, the company opened its integrated services routers (ISRs) to third-party developers. Last year Cisco announced a deal with IBM to integrate technologies for a unified communications package that would be based on open APIs.
Cisco's MSE will sell for $20,000 and will begin shipping in June. The Context-Aware Software is also scheduled to ship in June. Both the Adaptive Wireless IPS and Mobile Intelligent Roaming software are scheduled for the second half of 2008, while the Secure Client Manager will be available in the first half of 2009.