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Mon 2 Apr 2007 04:00 AM

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Cisco buddies up

Cisco may be a monolithic network player, but it still needs partners to make its increasingly ambitious vision a reality. NME looks at some of the key tie-ups the vendor has in the enterprise space.

|~|forde200x.jpg|~|“Intelligent patching is a trend which has really taken off in emerging markets, such as the Middle East – it’s extremely strong in Saudi Arabia.” Ciaran Forde, managing director for the Middle East, Pakistan and Africa, Systimax.|~|Last month NME reported on Cisco’s giant Networkers event, held earlier this year in Cannes; but Cisco itself is only half the story – the rest is down to its partners.

The networking giant’s grand vision – currently of ‘human networks’ and IP in everything – only goes so far before someone else’s technology or system comes into play.

Cisco’s choice of partners for its Networkers event reveals a lot about where the vendor sees itself going – and what it has up its sleeve for users.

To start off, the partners included the fairly obvious – but critical – cabling companies. So critical, in fact, that two structured cabling providers – Systimax and Panduit – came in as platinum sponsors of the event.

Both were clearly very keen to shed any vestiges of the “it’s just wires” school of thought which can still plague the structured cabling industry.

Systimax’s approach – aside from giving away free beverages on its stand – came in two main prongs: technology and fashion.

Technology came in the form of Systimax’s iPatch system – the latest refinement of the vendor’s intelligent auto-sensing network patching system.

The sales pitch for iPatch is simple – by reducing the complexity and confusion of the average patching panel, by identifying and logging which port is patched to which, the system cuts down time and mistakes, and also allows a large degree of remote control and configuration.

“An IT manager may get a request to make a change or add a new connection – he or she may be doing multiple other jobs, but can go to a PC and send a work order to the iPatch system,” explains Ciaran Forde, managing director for the Middle East, Pakistan and Africa at Systimax.

“Then a less-skilled IT professional can go and carry out the work order – freeing up the often very expensive IT manager from these tasks,” he adds.

“Intelligent patching is a trend which has really taken off in emerging markets, such as the Middle East – it’s extremely strong in Saudi Arabia, for example.

“But in Dubai, intelligent patching started well, but has now been pushed to the side of the agenda – projects such as Dubai Internet City were early adopters, but projects now are more focused on standard solutions delivered in the short term,” comments Forde on the prospects for systems such as iPatch in the Middle East, a region he says used to be first with new technology deployments.

The other side of Systimax’s assault on the market is its snappily-named VisiPatch 360 system.

Another patching system, although without built-in intelligence, Systimax is promoting VisiPatch as the high-design sports car of the structured cabling world.

Eschewing the traditional RJ45-style connectors, VisiPatch uses custom connectors which Systimax says increases the maximum density of patch panels.

The system also moves the cable to the rear of the connector, presenting a neat set of wire-free connectors at the front of the panel, giving room for usable labelling of each connector.

But Systimax designed VisiPatch as more than a practical alternative to traditional patching – the design and finish of the cabinets and connectors is very clearly trying to add an element of style, and even glamour, to the data centre or comms room.

Quite how successful Systimax will be in this endeavour will remain to be seen – and the efficacy of its alternative patching system will also come under heavy scrutiny from prospective buyers.

But it is clear the vendor is making an effort to update the image of cabling solutions – a battle it may even be able to win, at least among the IT community.

Other Cisco partners needed no such effort to boost their glamour-quotient.

One perhaps surprising participant at Networkers was Nokia – the Finnish mobile behemoth is a direct competitor to Cisco in the service provider space, a market which the US vendor is putting considerable effort into.

For Cannes, though, the focus was on the integration of mobile devices with corporate networks.

Nokia’s popular E-series of phones came out for demonstration again, showing off their wireless-VoIP capabilities which allow them to act as desk phones while inside the office and within range of the appropriate wireless network.

But even in demonstration the technology is clearly not yet 100% mature – users still need to switch manually from wireless VoIP to GSM/3G, making it a harder sell for executives with little time to reconfigure phones.

Security was a popular theme at the event – alongside more ‘traditional’ network security demonstrations came security applications which leverage the network.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) provider Aeroscout showed off its asset tracking system, which is based around standard Wi-Fi technology – allowing companies to track assets without investment in bespoke RFID technology.

Physical security and surveillance also made its presence known at the event – the emphasis was on intelligent solutions which were able to tie in more deeply than ever before to the network infrastructure.

Examples included an access control system which triggered surveillance cameras on use – moving this type of system to within reach of many more enterprises than was previously the case.

And systems more recognisable as IT security were also on show – big names including McAfee, Trend Micro and Secure Computing manned their stands and flew the flag for more conventional anti-virus and network security systems.

Cisco had its own security demonstrations underway as well, with an emphasis on real-time intelligent threat detection and prevention – one demonstration focused on ways to shut down a man-in-the-middle attack.

For a company which is famous for ploughing its own furrow in the IT world, Cisco’s range of partners demonstrates a willingness to engage that is at least encouraging.

But it is notable that all of its partners on show at Networkers – with the exception of security vendors – occupy the areas around the network, not within it – except in the case of cable infrastructure providers such as Systimax or Panduit, a market largely untouched by Cisco itself.

In contrast to other networking players, which often have extensive partnerships with fellow core network vendors, albeit with different specialities, Cisco is making it abundantly clear that the network core – and increasing amounts of the periphery – belong exclusively to it.||**||

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