Cisco's moves concentrate on leading-edge technology areas in the networking arena - voice over IP (VoIP), quality of service, virtual private networks (VPNs) and the call centre.
Two of its product releases, a VoIP health monitor and a quality of service network manager, are aimed at enhancing VoIP management in this growing market. The company's collaboration with Siebel has yielded fruit in the form of combined contact centre software and platforms.
After acquiring more than 20 companies last year, Cisco did not buy any in the first six months of this year. In the past month, however, the company has acquired Allegro Systems, which makes acceleration systems for VPNs, and AuroraNetics, which specialises in chips used to route traffic in IP Metropolitan Area Networks.
The product launches are part of Cisco's Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data (Avvid) platform which is aimed at comprehensively managing network performance for leading-edge communications media.
The VoIP Health Monitor is a software suite which, as the name implies, measures the performance of voice traffic on converged networks, and provides real-time status reports and notification of potential problems in the network infrastructure.
VoIP has been criticised for its lack of fault tolerance because badly routed or lost packets make a greater difference to the quality of a voice transmission than is the case with simple data traffic. Ciscoworks QoS Policy Manager and Ciscoworks Service Management Solution are designed to help network administrators ensure quality of service with voice traffic on a converged network by managing prioritisation of traffic.
QoS Policy Manager enables rules-based network policies to be set, for example, to prioritise voice traffic or the chief executive's videoconference. It also includes VoIP policy recommendations for different areas of the network that can be customised by the user.
Ciscoworks Service Management Solution tests and measures end-to-end service levels on the network. It includes the ability to set service level agreement threshold notification. This can let the network manager know immediately if critical services such as voice or video are not operating at acceptable levels.
Also released is an e-business hosting engine - the Cisco 1105 Hosting Solution Engine - for the service provider or corporate datacentre, which allows network and layer 4-7 service management. The Hosting Solution Engine provides network infrastructure fault and performance monitoring of routers, switches, load balancers and firewalls. The product was originally built for in-house use at Cisco to keep Web servers running.
The Cisco and Siebel collaboration has resulted in the formation of a number of links between Siebel Call Centre version 6 and various elements of Cisco's customer contact software platform. The products are aimed at businesses wishing to develop contact centres and include the ability to organise staff into virtual groupings according to their expertise, even when physically remote from each other.