The company said the network resiliency features that are being built into the new release of its Internetwork Operating System (IOS) software include protection to guard against the loss of any data packets, the ability to circumvent failed devices and faster rerouting sequences when network problems occur.
"It's a definite step forward in terms of resilience," said Joe Fusco, product manager for private IP network services at data network operator Infonet Services. "Right now, it's a matter of making sure we feel it's ready for deployment, but the new features certainly interest us."
Tim Smith, an analyst at research group Gartner, said the Cisco IOS release "represents another step in the maturation" of IP. Surer handling of data packets and consistent uptime are critical for moving voice, video and storage data across corporate networks, he said.
At the Networld + Interop conference in Las Vegas earlier this month, Mike Volpi, a senior vice-president in Cisco's enterprise group, said that a more resilient backbone would allow IP-based networks to handle increased traffic and more complex kinds of data.
Volpi said that storage installations run on IP would be boosted significantly if networking technology can be made as robust and reliable as Cisco believes it can be.
Cisco's IOS software can also work with hardware from other vendors. However, "the most benefit from these capabilities will still be felt when it's all Cisco working on the back end," Gartner's Smith said. "There's some standardisation that needs to happen to make this a better fit for enterprises with heterogeneous networks."
The first wave of resilience features will become available next month, Cisco said. In the second half of the year, the company plans to add a protocol that lets users operate a standby wide-area network connection even when the primary link is in use, plus the ability to rebuild encrypted virtual private network tunnels when a primary router fails.
Smith said demand for such services is high, leaving Cisco with little leeway for shipment errors. "There is absolutely no room in the market for missed dates [or] for rolling out stuff that's not rock-solid," he said.