Tag Archives: Cisco

Cisco Webex Edge for Devices links on-prem endpoints to cloud

Businesses using on-premises video gear from Cisco can now get access to cloud services, while keeping their video infrastructure in place.

A new service, called Cisco Webex Edge for Devices, lets businesses connect on-premises video devices to cloud services like Webex Control Hub and the Webex Assistant. Customers get access to some cloud features but continue to host video traffic on their networks.

Many businesses aren’t ready to move their communications to the cloud. Vendors have responded by developing ways to mix on-premises and cloud technologies. Cisco Webex Edge for Devices is the latest offering of that kind.

“It gives users that cloudlike experience without the businesses having to fully migrate everything to the cloud,” said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research.

Cisco wants to get as many businesses as possible to go all-in on the cloud. Webex Edge for Devices, introduced this month, tees up customers to make that switch. Companies will have the option of migrating their media services to the cloud after connecting devices to the service.

Webex Edge for Devices is available for no additional charge to businesses with an enterprise-wide Collaboration Flex Plan, a monthly per-user subscription. Alternatively, companies can purchase cloud licenses for the devices they want to register with the service for roughly $30 per device, per month. The service won’t work with gear that’s so old Cisco no longer supports it.

Video hardware linked to the cloud through the service will show up in the Webex Control Hub, a console for managing cloud devices. For on-premises devices, the control hub will provide diagnostic reports, usage data, and insight into whether the systems are online or offline.

Many businesses are already using a mix of on-premises and cloud video endpoints. Webex Edge for Devices will let those customers manage those devices from a single console. In the future, Cisco plans to add support for on-premises phones.

Businesses will also be able to sync on-premises video devices with cloud-based calendars from Microsoft and Google. That configuration will let the devices display a one-click join button for meetings scheduled on those calendars.

Another cloud feature unlocked by Webex Edge for Devices is the Webex Assistant. The service is an AI voice system that lets users join meetings, place calls and query devices with their voice.

In the future, Cisco plans to bring more cloud features to on-premises devices. Future services include People Insights, a tool that provides background information on meeting participants with information gleaned from the public internet.

Cisco first released a suite of services branded as Webex Edge in September 2018. The suite included Webex Edge Audio, Webex Edge Connect and Webex Video Mesh. The applications provide ways to use on-premises and cloud technologies in combination to improve the quality of audio and video calls.

Cisco’s release of Webex Edge for Devices underscores its strategy of supporting on-premises customers without forcing them to the cloud, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research.

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Cisco 2020: Challenges, prospects shape the new year

Cisco finished 2019 with a blitz of announcements that recast the company’s service provider business. Instead of providing just integrated hardware and software, Cisco became a supplier of components for open gear.

Cisco enters the new decade with rearchitected silicon tailored for white box routers favored by cloud providers and other organizations with hyperscale data centers. To add punch to its new Silicon One chipset, Cisco plans to offer high-speed integrated optics from Acacia Communications. Cisco expects to complete its $2.6 billion acquisition of Acacia in 2020.

Cisco is aiming its silicon-optics combo at Broadcom. The chipmaker has been the only significant silicon supplier for white box routers and switches built on specifications from the Open Compute Project. The specialty hardware has become the standard within the mega-scale data centers of cloud providers like AWS, Google and Microsoft; and internet companies like Facebook.

I think the Silicon One announcement was a watershed moment.
Chris AntlitzPrincipal analyst, Technology Business Research Inc.

“I think the Silicon One announcement was a watershed moment,” said Chris Antlitz, principal analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. (TBR).

Cisco designed Silicon One so white box manufacturers could program the hardware platform for any router type. Gear makers like Accton Technology Corporation, Edgecore Networks and Foxconn Technology Group will be able to use the chip in core, aggregation and access routers. Eventually, they could also use it in switches.

Cisco 2020: Silicon One in the 5G market

Cisco is attacking the cloud provider market by addressing its hunger for higher bandwidth and lower latency. At the same time, the vendor will offer its new technology to communication service providers. Their desire for speed and higher performance will grow over the next couple of years as they rearchitect their data centers to deliver 5G wireless services to businesses.

For the 5G market, Cisco could combine Silicon One with low-latency network interface cards from Exablaze, which Cisco plans to acquire by the end of April 2020. The combination could produce exceptionally fast switches and routers to compete with other telco suppliers, including Ericsson, Juniper Networks, Nokia and Huawei. Startups are also targeting the market with innovative routing architectures.

“Such a move could give Cisco an edge,” said Tom Nolle, president of networking consultancy CIMI Corp., in a recent blog. “If you combine a low-latency network card with the low-latency Silicon One chip, you might have a whole new class of network device.”

Cisco 2020: Trouble with the enterprise

Cisco will launch its repositioned service provider business, while contending with the broader problem of declining revenues. Cisco could have difficulty reversing that trend, while also addressing customer unhappiness with the high price of its next-generation networking architecture for enterprise data centers. 

“I do think 2020 is likely to be an especially challenging year for Cisco,” said John Burke, an analyst at Nemertes Research. “The cost of getting new goodies is far too high.”

Burke said he had spoken to several people in the last few months who had dropped Cisco gear from their networks to avoid the expense. At the same time, companies have reported using open source network automation tools in place of Cisco software to lower costs.

Cisco software deemed especially expensive include its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) and DNA Center, Burke said. ACI and DNA Center are at the heart of Cisco’s modernized approach to the data center and campus network, respectively.

Both offer significant improvements over Cisco’s older network architectures. But they require businesses to purchase new Cisco hardware and retrain IT staff.

John Mulhall, an independent contractor with 20 years of networking experience, said any new generation of Cisco technology requires extra cost analyses to justify the price.

“As time goes on, a lot of IT shops are going to be a little bit reluctant to just go the standard Cisco route,” he said. “There’s too much competition out there.”

Cisco SD-WAN gets dinged

Besides getting criticized for high prices, Cisco also took a hit in 2019 for the checkered performance of its Viptela software-defined WAN, a centerpiece for connecting campus employees to SaaS and cloud-based applications. In November, Gartner reported that Viptela running on Cisco’s IOS-XE platform had “stability and scaling issues.”

Also, customers who had bought Cisco’s ISR routers during the last few years reported the hardware didn’t have enough throughput to support Viptela, Gartner said.

The problems convinced the analyst firm to drop Cisco from the “leaders” ranking of Gartner’s latest Magic Quadrant for WAN Edge Infrastructure.

Gartner and some industry analysts also knocked Cisco for selling two SD-WAN products — Viptela and Meraki — with separate sales teams and distinct management and hardware platforms.

The approach has made it difficult for customers and resellers to choose the product that best suits their needs, analysts said. Other vendors use a single SD-WAN to address all uses.

“Cisco’s SD-WAN is truly a mixed bag,” said Roy Chua, principal analyst at AvidThink. “In the end, the strategy will need to be clearer.”

Antlitz of TBR was more sanguine about Cisco’s SD-WAN prospects. “We see no reason to believe that Cisco will lose its status as a top-tier SD-WAN provider.”

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Cisco cries foul over security flaw in Zoom Connector

Cisco slammed rival Zoom for a security lapse that left the management portals of many video devices exposed to the public internet. It’s an unusually public spat between two of the industry’s leading video conferencing providers.

The dispute revolves around Zoom Connector, a gateway that connects standards-based video devices to the Zoom cloud. In addition to providing a management portal for the hardware, the service makes it possible to join Zoom meetings with one click.

The Zoom Connector previously allowed anyone with the correct URL to access the admin portal for Cisco, Poly and Lifesize devices from the public internet without login credentials, according to Cisco. That would have let a hacker commandeer a company’s video systems, potentially allowing them to eavesdrop on conference rooms.

Zoom released a patch last week that password-protected access to the control hub via those URLs. But in a blog post this week, Cisco said the quick fix did not go far enough, alerting customers that Zoom’s connector service did not meet Cisco’s security standards.

To create the connector, Zoom built a link between the Zoom cloud and a Cisco web server running within a corporate network, said Sri Srinivasan, general manager of Cisco’s team collaboration group. The configuration provides a point of access to the endpoints that lies outside the network firewall. 

“You don’t want to have firewall settings open for a management interface of this sort, even [when] password-protected,” Srinivasan said.

Similarly, in a statement Tuesday, Lifesize said it considered Zoom Connector an unauthorized integration “built in an inherently insecure way.” However, the company concluded that the security flaw spotlighted by Cisco did not put customers in immediate risk.

In a statement Tuesday, Zoom said it considered the issue fully resolved. While insisting customers were safe, Zoom said it did advise companies to check device logs for unusual activity or unauthorized access.

Zoom added that it was not aware of any instances of hackers exploiting the vulnerability. The URLs necessary to access a device’s management portal are long and complicated, similar to a link to a Google Doc or an unlisted YouTube video. Most likely, a hacker would have needed to first gain access to an admin’s browser history to exploit the flaw.

Zoom has come under fire before for security shortfalls. Experts criticized the vendor in July for quietly installing a web server on Mac computers. The software left users vulnerable to being forcibly joined to a meeting with their video cameras turned on.

Cisco has raised issues with Zoom about the connector in the past, but only became aware of the URL vulnerability on Oct. 31, Srinivasan said. A customer who wished to remain anonymous reported the problem to Cisco and Zoom around the same time, he said. Zoom patched the issue on Nov. 19, one day after Cisco said it contacted the company about the problem. 

Adding fuel to the fire, Zoom has been using the Cisco logo on its connector’s admin portal. Cisco said this likely led customers to believe they were accessing a website supported by Cisco.

“This has been going on for a long, long time,” Srinivasan said. “Now, we know better to make sure we check everything Zoom does.”

But it seems unlikely Zoom will heed Cisco’s directive to obtain certification of the service. The vendor has a financial stake in the matter, as it charges customers $499 per year, per port for Zoom Connector.

Zoom has emerged in recent years as perhaps Cisco’s biggest competitor in the video conferencing market. Eric Yuan resigned as Cisco’s vice president of engineering to start Zoom in 2011. Yuan was one of the chief architects of the Webex video conferencing software that Cisco acquired in 2007.

In the coming months, Cisco is planning to release a SIP-based integration for Zoom and other leading video conferencing providers. The technology would let users join third-party meetings with one click from a Cisco device.

Cisco already supports SIP-based interoperability. But taking advantage of it requires businesses to build an integration themselves or pay for a third-party service. Srinivasan said the forthcoming SIP integration would eliminate the need for a service like Zoom Connector.

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Cisco earnings foreshadow slowdown in tech spending

Cisco blamed political turmoil on the world stage for a slowdown in tech spending that will drive the company’s overall revenue down in the current quarter.

The latest Cisco earnings report, released this week, reflected a “pause” in spending by companies globally, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins told financial analysts. The number of product orders in the quarter ended Oct. 26 fell in three customer segments — enterprise, commercial and service provider. Only the government sector showed positive growth.

“It feels like there’s a bit of a pause [in spending],” Robbins said during the company’s quarterly earnings call.

The slowdown led to only a 2% increase in revenue, to $13.2 billion in the first quarter of the 2020 fiscal year. Revenue in the previous quarter rose 6% year over year. For the current quarter, Cisco said revenue would drop between 3% and 5%.

Tight control on expenses last quarter drove net income up 5%, to $3.6 billion. Cisco earnings per share rose 12%, to 84 cents.

Global strife causing business jitters

Several events globally were making tech buyers nervous enough to delay spending, Robbins said. They included anti-China protests in Hong Kong, the trade war between China and the United States, England’s messy exit from the European Union, impeachment hearings in the U.S. Congress and political turmoil in Latin America.

It feels like there’s a bit of a pause [in spending].
Chuck RobbinsCEO, Cisco

“Business confidence just suffers when there’s a lack of clarity,” Robbins said.

As a result, a significant number of deals were smaller than expected, some fell through and others were delayed, he said.

Cisco, considered a bellwether of tech spending, reported in August a global weakening in demand. But while spending fell in the service provider customer segment, the rest had positive growth.

Last quarter, Cisco continued to struggle in the Chinese and service provider markets. Revenue in China fell 31%, compared with a 26% drop in the quarter ended July 27, while service provider orders fell 13%.

Service provider spending has fallen for several quarters. However, Cisco has predicted that sales would pick up next year, when it expects carriers to start overhauling their networks to support plans for 5G business services.

Within Cisco, the decrease in service provider sales is reflected in lower enterprise routing revenue. Also, enterprises are spending less on data center routing as they move their business software to public clouds.

“Cisco’s product lines are strong,” Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said. “But the company’s core market, enterprise routing, isn’t growing a lot.”

Cisco predicts spending recovery

Eventually, several industry trends will force businesses to increase spending, Robbins said. Companies will need new technology to take advantage of carriers’ 5G wireless networks and the higher bandwidth of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard. The increase in data traffic from those next-generation technologies would, for example, drive sales of 400 Gigabit switches.

“Technology is so absolutely core to their fundamental strategies that it just seems to me that the time that they’re going to be able to pause will be shorter than what you’ve seen in the past,” Robbins said.

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Cisco MDS 9700 switches prep for 64G Fibre Channel NVMe-oF

Gearing up for adoption of non-volatile memory over fabrics, Cisco upgraded its multilayer MDs network switches to help shops transition to the next generation of Fibre Channel block storage.

Cisco will add line cards for the Cisco MDS 9700 family for in-place hardware upgrades and an extension of Cisco SAN Analytics to support the NVMe protocol.

The new Cisco MDS 9700 switching hardware enables data centers to run multiple Fibre Channel (FC) generations in the same chassis. Other new features include Ansible modules that automate deployment of storage tasks for VMware vSAN, device aliases and zoning.

Cisco said it plans to ship 64G line cards for MDS-9706, MDS-9710 and MDS-9718 Director switches by the end of 2019. The new cards are timed in advance of 64 gigabit per second FC, also known as Gen 7 FC. A data center can install the Cisco line card to run 64 Gbps FC concurrently with existing 16-gig and 32-gig traffic.

MDS 9700 switches are part of the Cisco MDS 9000 product line, which consists of large networking devices that centralize the management of storage traffic at the switch level. Cisco MDS 9700 products launched in 2013, around the time NVMe flash media emerged as a contender to SATA-based SSDs.

Cisco follows Brocade

The latest Cisco MDS product update comes nearly 18 months after similar products hit the market by SAN switching rival Brocade, now part of semiconductor giant Broadcom. Broadcom and Cisco are the only large vendors who sell FC network switches and are positioning those devices for NVMe over FC implementations. There are also Ethernet and InfiniBand options for running NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF).

FC technology delivers a high level of lossless performance, while NVMe offers a quantum boost in network latency by routing traffic across PCI Express lanes. The combination is expected to have broad appeal to data centers with applications demanding extreme high performance.

Reengineering the Cisco MDS 9700 required a lot of work to avoid “rip and replace” scenarios, said Scott Sinclair, an analyst for storage at Enterprise Strategy Group, an IT research firm in Milford, Mass.

“There is a big desire to transition storage networks to NVMe, and the Fibre Channel community is making it insanely easy to do. Cisco had to do a lot of hard work to make this transition seamless, and that will help companies save a ton of money over the long haul,” Sinclair said.

Data centers can adapt existing FC technologies for NVMe via a software upgrade. FC has fewer hurdles to NVMe adoption than Ethernet-based remote direct memory access memory technologies, which include RDMA over Converged Ethernet and Internet Wide Area RDMA Protocol. Another NVME fabric option is TCP/IP, a server-native functionality popular with hyper-scale cloud providers.

Enhanced troubleshooting

Onboard telemetry is native to all Cisco MDS 9000 switches. The latest iteration of the software is designed to capture high-fidelity reads of all traffic, including traditional SCSI block messages and data sent via NVMe-oF. The tool allows admins to slide back one hour at a time to pinpoint trouble spots with networks or storage.

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Cisco adds UC headset management to IT console

Cisco has added headset management and analytics tools to the IT dashboard of its flagship on-premises telephony product. The move is part of a campaign to penetrate a corner of the unified communications market Cisco had previously ceded to hardware partners.

Cisco for years relied exclusively on vendors such as Poly (formerly Plantronics) and Jabra to provide customers with headsets for its desk phones and UC apps. In March 2018, Cisco released its headsets in an attempt to capture a slice of a market that Frost & Sullivan expects to exceed $2 billion by 2024.

The new UC headset management tools are a crucial part of Cisco’s sales pitch. Unlike competitors that specialize only in endpoints, Cisco also makes the telecommunications products that its headsets are used with, allowing Cisco to include a more comprehensive set of analytics and management tools in a single dashboard.

A recent update to Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM), an on-premises and hosted IP-based telephony system, added headset management capabilities to the same dashboard that IT administrators already use to troubleshoot call quality issues and other Cisco phones.

IT administrators can use the console to update the firmware of Cisco headsets or alter settings for volume, audio bandwidth and wireless range. Admins can perform the tasks for individuals or groups of employees all at once. The dashboard also provides an inventory of headsets that includes non-Cisco devices.

The tools are not revolutionary. Most major hardware vendors have developed software for managing endpoints that provide a similar level of control. Businesses are coming to expect these types of consoles as they buy headsets in increasing numbers.

The latest tools are available now in CUCM version 12.5(1)SU1. Later this year, businesses still using version 11.5(1)SU7 will be able to access them without updating to the latest edition of CUCM.

Cisco’s new headset management technology is only for CUCM. The company has yet to bring the same features to the IT dashboard of Webex, a cloud-based calling, messaging and meetings app.

Cisco offers four lines of headsets for office and contact center workers, a mix of wired and DECT wireless devices. The vendor is planning to release Bluetooth-enabled headsets in the coming months.

Cisco is not the only new entrant in the headset market. Longtime UC rival Avaya released a line of headsets in early 2019 as part of a broader campaign to boost hardware sales. Around the same time, Avaya launched its first open-SIP phones, which work with the communications platform of any vendor.

Professional headset revenues were projected to increase at an average annual rate of 8% between 2017 and 2024, according to Frost & Sullivan. The increased demand stems in part from the growing popularity of cloud UC and softphones, which let users place and receive calls through their computer.

“Cisco’s newly introduced headset management tools follow the moves of the leading professional headset vendors in the space,” said Alaa Sayeed, analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “It is surely a positive step forward from a company that is visibly investing in the pro headset arena as part of its broad enterprise endpoints portfolio.”

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Cisco security flaw leads to $8.6M payout in whistleblower case

Cisco agreed to pay $8.6 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit that accused the company of selling video surveillance software to government agencies despite knowing for years that the product suffered from critical security vulnerabilities. The settlement was the first of its kind against a tech company for alleged cybersecurity fraud.

Hackers could have used the Cisco security flaw to gain access to a customer’s local area network, potentially giving them control over physical security systems such as locks and alarms. The hackers also could have exploited the weakness to view, modify and delete video surveillance feeds and to obtain user passwords that would mask their activities.

Federal agencies that used the flawed product to manage video surveillance feeds included the Department of Defense, the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security, NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday. Major airports, police departments and public transit systems had also deployed the product.

Cisco became aware of flaws in the product, called the Cisco Video Surveillance Manager, no later than May 2008 but did not issue a security advisory until July 2013, according to Cisco’s settlement agreement with 15 states and the District of Columbia. Offices of the state attorneys general provided a copy of the deal.

Cisco did not admit wrongdoing.

Cisco has made security a main selling point of its cloud products in recent years. This week’s revelations risk sullying that reputation at a time when consumers and businesses are becoming leerier of the threats posed by new technologies. The case underscores that vendors need more than just secure software — they need well-enforced protocols for responding to reported defects. 

In a blog post, Cisco said the settlement showed that software companies were increasingly being held to a higher standard on security. “In short, what seemed reasonable at one point no longer meets the needs of our stakeholders today,” said Mark Chandler, Cisco’s executive vice president and chief legal officer.

Whistleblower’s lawsuit

James Glenn, a former employee of Denmark-based Cisco partner NetDesign, sued Cisco in May 2011 on behalf of the federal government and numerous state governments who had purchased the product. Glenn acted as a whistleblower under the provisions of federal and state fraud laws that allow private citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of governments.

James GlennJames Glenn

Glenn alerted Cisco to the vulnerabilities in October 2008. In March 2009, while attempting to get Cisco to patch the flaws, Glenn’s position with NetDesign was terminated because of “economic concerns,” according to the lawsuit. NetDesign did not respond to a request for comment.

Glenn first alerted federal authorities to the security issue in September 2010, asking a family member to tell the FBI that the Los Angeles International Airport was using the software. Glenn later spoke to a detective for the airport who served on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The settlement marks the first instance of a citizen-initiated whistleblower lawsuit prompting the U.S. government to successfully seek a financial penalty against a tech company for cybersecurity fraud, according to Constantine Cannon LLP, a law firm that represented Glenn.

As part of the $8.6 million settlement, Cisco will pay Glenn $1.6 million. Separately, Glenn is asking a federal judge to order Cisco to reimburse him for attorneys’ fees and other costs related to bringing the action. Nevertheless, the penalty is a tiny drop in the bucket for Cisco, which brought in $49.3 billion in revenue last fiscal year.  

The settlement — representing a partial refund for those who bought the product — covers only the government agencies involved, meaning Cisco could still be subject to lawsuits by private companies that used the software, which the vendor sold between 2008 and 2014.

“My view is that there are likely international governments, as well as domestic and international private companies, who could be impacted here for sure,” said Mary Inman, an attorney for Constantine Cannon LLP’s whistleblower practice group. “I would expect to see follow-on lawsuits from class-action attorneys representing some of the private customers here.”

Cisco’s handling of the security flaw

Cisco inherited the technology behind the product through its 2007 acquisition of Broadware. Cisco released a best practices guide in 2009 that the company claims addressed the security vulnerabilities in question. However, in an interview Thursday, Glenn disputed the guide’s helpfulness. “I didn’t see a version of the guide that would have been effective in mitigating those issues,” he said.

Cisco released an advisory in July 2013, shortly after a security website posted publicly about the vulnerabilities. The company released a software update in December 2012 that eliminated the flaws, but customers were not forced to upgrade. Cisco continued to sell vulnerable versions of the product until September 2014. 

The lawsuit accused Cisco of violating the federal False Claims Act by knowingly selling a product that failed to comply with security standards for government computer systems. The company also allegedly failed to warn customers subscribed to its premium security service about the flaws.

“We’re increasingly seeing whistleblowers from around the world alerting the U.S. authorities to fraud,” Inman said. “[This is] the first of what we believe will be … many whistleblower-initiated lawsuits which are helping to hold the tech community accountable.”

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Cisco’s acquisition of Acacia bolsters service provider offerings

Cisco plans to acquire Acacia Communications for $2.6 billion, a move that would make Cisco a direct supplier of packet-optical transport systems for carrier networks and organizations that connect data centers across hundreds of miles.

Cisco announced the pending purchase on Tuesday in a joint statement with Acacia, based in Maynard, Mass. The companies expect to close the Cisco acquisition in the first half of next year.

Cisco offers Acacia’s packet-optical transport systems (P-OTS) with networking gear it sells today to carriers, cloud service providers and the largest enterprises. Cisco rivals Juniper Networks and Huawei are also Acacia customers, and analysts expect them to eventually turn to other P-OTS suppliers, such as Ciena, Inphi and Nokia.

“If I’m a Juniper or a Huawei, why would I buy from Cisco?” said Rajesh Ghai, an analyst at IDC.

Bill Gartner, general manager of Cisco's optical systems groupBill Gartner

Nevertheless, Acacia customers can expect from Cisco the same level of support that they receive today and equal access to products, said Bill Gartner, general manager of the vendor’s optical systems group.

“If we’re going to make this successful, we have to make sure that we’re providing the technology to third parties that they want to consume at the time they want to consume it and at the right performance and price point,” Gartner said. “I don’t think we could make this successful more broadly if we give Cisco preference on any of those parameters.”

Reasoning behind Cisco acquisition

Cisco has agreed to acquire Acacia because the company’s optical interconnect technology will let Cisco help customers design networks that can keep pace with the projected increase in data traffic. Cisco has predicted that annual global IP traffic will increase from 1.5 zettabytes in 2017 to 4.8 zettabytes by 2022. Contributors to the traffic surge include internet growth, video content delivery and emerging next-generation wireless technology to support more demanding business applications.

Today, Cisco’s proprietary optical transport technology ends in the data center, where analysts expect port speeds of 100 Gbps and 400 Gbps to become commonplace over the next couple of years. To meet that emerging demand, Cisco this year completed the $660 million acquisition of silicon photonics company Luxtera.

With Acacia, Cisco will also own the optical technology for service providers that need high-speed connections for metropolitan area networks or data centers as far as 1,500 miles apart.

“Our optics business today is primarily addressing what’s happening inside the data center — short-reach optics,” Gartner said during a conference call with financial analysts. “We don’t have a portfolio today that addresses what happens outside the data center for pluggables.”

Acacia’s portfolio includes pluggables, which are optical modular transceivers that vendors can sell as a plugin for a router or switch. The pluggable architecture, which is in its infancy, promises to simplify upgrading and repairing transceivers in networking gear.

John Burke, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill., said Acacia could help Cisco “stay dominant in large data center markets long term,” while also providing some technical advantages over Arista, Juniper and Huawei.

“I suspect it will also give a boost to some smaller optical companies and trigger at least one more acquisition — perhaps by Arista,” Burke said.

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GPU-buffed servers advance Cisco’s AI agenda

Cisco Systems is the latest hardware vendor to offer gear tuned for AI and machine learning-based workloads.

Competition to support AI and machine workloads continues to heat up. Earlier this year archrivals Dell Technologies Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise and IBM rolled out servers designed to optimize performance of AI and machine learning workloads. Many smaller vendors are chasing this market as well.

“This is going to be a highly competitive field going forward with everyone having their own solution,” said Jean Bozman, vice president and principal analyst at Hurwitz & Associates. “IT organizations will have to figure out, with the help of third-party organizations, how to best take advantage of these new technologies.”

Cisco AI plan taps Nvidia GPUs

The Cisco UCS C480 ML M5 rack server, the company’s first tuned to run AI workloads, contains Nvidia Tesla V100 Tensor Core GPUs and NVLink to boost performance, and works with neural networks and large data sets to train computers to carry out complex tasks, according to the company. It works with Cisco Intersight, introduced last year, which allows IT professionals to automate policies and operations across their infrastructure from the cloud.

This Cisco AI server will ship sometime during this year’s fourth quarter. Cisco Services will offer technical support for a range of AI and machine learning capabilities.

Cisco intends to target several different industries with the new system. Financial services companies can use it to detect fraud and algorithmic trading, while healthcare companies can enlist it to deliver insights and diagnostics, improve medical image classification and speed drug discovery and research.

Server hardware makers place bets on AI

The market for AI and machine learning, particularly the former, represents a rich opportunity for systems vendors over the next year or two. Only 4% of CIOs said they have implemented AI projects, according to a Gartner study earlier this year. However, some 46% have blueprints in place to implement such projects, and many of them have kicked off pilot programs.

[AI and machine learning-based servers are] going to be a highly competitive field going forward with everyone having their own solution.
Jean Bozmanvice president and principal analyst, Hurwitz & Associates

AI and machine learning offers IT shops more efficient ways to address complex issues, but will significantly affect their underlying infrastructure and processes. Larger IT shops must heavily invest in training and the education of existing employees in how to use the technologies, the Gartner report stated. They also must upgrade existing infrastructure before they deploy production-ready AI and machine learning workloads. Enterprises will need to retool infrastructure to find ways to more efficiently handle data.

“All vendors will have the same story about data being your most valuable asset and how they can handle it efficiently,” Bozman said. “But to get at [the data] you first have to break down the data silos, label the data to get at it efficiently, and add data protection.”

Only after this prep work can IT shops take full advantage of AI-powered hardware-software tools.

“No matter how easy some of these vendors say it is to implement their integrated solutions, IT [shops] have more than a little homework to do to make it all work,” one industry analyst said. “Then you are ready to get the best results from any AI-based data analytics.”

Cisco ASR 9000 router gets usage-based pricing

Cisco has introduced pay-as-you-go pricing for the latest line card of the ASR 9000 router, offering service providers a more flexible licensing model as they evaluate 5G infrastructure suppliers.

Cisco’s new licensing model, unveiled this week, applies to the new line card and subsequent generations. The latest hardware has a maximum throughput of 3.2 Tbps, uses a half watt of power per gigabit and is available with 32, 16 or 8 ports of 100 GbE. The cards fit into existing ASR 9000 chassis.

The pricing change lets service providers buy a license for ASR 9000 capacity across sites, but only pay for what they use. The cost would increase as ports are activated, said Sumeet Arora, the head of engineering for service provider network systems at Cisco.

Previously, service providers had to buy an ASR 9000 license for each site based on expected demand. As a result, the customers would pay for capacity they weren’t using, Arora said.

The ASR 9000 router in 5G

Cisco is making its pricing more customer-friendly as service providers consider technology like the ASR 9000 to support future 5G business and consumer services. The fifth-generation cellular technology delivers speed, capacity and latency improvements that will enable new products for healthcare, manufacturing, entertainment and the auto industry, proponents have said.

However, analysts do not expect the 5G services market to take off for several years. Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins recently told financial analysts that he didn’t expect significant 5G sales until 2020.

ASR 9000
ASR 9000 router with 32 100 GbE ports

Until the 5G market opens, Cisco is aiming the new ASR 9000 line cards at the network edge where service providers deliver virtual private networks and other business services. Other “big use cases” include internet peering, data center interconnects and the IP infrastructure for mobile services, Arora said.

The ASR 9000 router competes with products from Juniper Networks, Huawei and Nokia. The latter two vendors, along with Ericsson, comprise the top three suppliers to service providers.

Last week, Juniper Networks announced a partnership with Ericsson to sell a collection of products for moving 5G traffic. Cisco announced a wide-ranging partnership with Ericsson in 2015, but that deal has stalled, and many analysts believe it is nearly dead.

“The Ericsson-Cisco partnership was a nonstarter, and both parties did not follow up on the promise that they had articulated during the announcement,” said Rajesh Ghai, an analyst at IDC.