Cisco to integrate social networking into new OS

Cisco has unveiled its new strategic direction, and IDC Australia says it signals a desire to change perceptions it is a hardware-dominated company.

If you want a quick summation of where Cisco is going to focus in the next three to five years, the three magic words are TelePresence, collaboration and video. That's the troika that will bring all of Cisco's strategic planning, R&D and acquisitions together.

Of the three, Cisco has proclaimed video the killer app, and the company plans to introduce in 2008 its EOS (Entertainment Operating System), a hosted software platform that will integrate social networking, content distribution and content targeting into a unified operating environment.

Outlining its high-level plans, Cisco kicked off its C-Scape 2007 analyst conference in the USA on Tuesday Australian time, bringing in industry experts and remote conference attendees via its TelePresence videoconferencing solution.

According to Cisco CEO John Chambers, the industry is in the second phase of major Internet development, which will use collaboration via Web 2.0 technology as a positive disruptive force that promotes social networking for business and consumers.

Chambers said the network will be used to enable new business models, and Cisco is trying to position itself to be in the middle of it all, including negotiating content agreements with media companies.

"We'll watch how it goes as Cisco tries to position itself as a communications company, a software company and a video company," said Tim Dillon, associate vice president of IDC Australia. "Cisco clearly wants to get away from being considered just a hardware vendor."

Starting with the TelePresence focus first, Chambers said he plans to double the number of customers he visits over the next three years, yet cut his travel in half. "TelePresence is the ability to share information in a many-to-many form, and it can be more effective than the face-to-face meeting," Chambers said.

Telepresence is about unified communications, he said. "It's an architectural approach, using a shared workspace and having the ability to integrate video from different places, working across one unified data, voice and video network."

Collaboration as productivity catalyst

Cisco's second keyword, collaboration, is vital to increasing corporate productivity and innovation, driving it at a faster pace than most economists project, said Erik Brynjolfsson, the director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, who joined the conference via Cisco's TelePresence solution. "The more knowledge workers can collaborate with each other using TelePresence," he said, "the more they can increase productivity and innovate faster."

Collaboration has synergy with business process change, according to Brynjolfsson. "Companies that have made business process and collaborative technology improvements have found that the two go together in a highly complementary way," he said, "and the companies that did both had large productivity gains."

Collaboration also promotes social networking within businesses, Brynjolfsson said, adding that its uses go beyond the familiar FaceBook and MySpace applications used largely in the younger consumer market.

Video as the killer app

The video market is clearly where Cisco wants to be. "The next wave of Internet disruption is video," Chambers said. "We will go after it in partnership mode, partnering with content publishers, service providers and device makers."

Moving into video is clearly a more complex transition than unified communications and collaboration. Chambers predicted that IP video, which includes many video formats, will increase fourfold by 2011. Cisco believes it can power the connected experience by helping distribute content via its core networking expertise, providing consumer access via its Scientific Atlanta and Linksys acquisitions.

"The change in video usage is the single biggest disruption since the invention of the motion picture camera," said Dan Scheinman, senior vice president/general manager of Cisco Media Solutions Group. "Existing content business models are being destroyed, and media companies are scrambling to connect with customers." Cisco, Scheinman asserted, is well positioned to help media companies connect to the home, and it has the networking capabilities to help with distribution.

"Technology can't solve all of the problems; there has to be an entire market transition with video," Chambers said. "My conversations with NBC are about content, not equipment, and how it all ties to the connected consumer."

One big question is how homes will be optimised for receiving personal next-generation content at the time -- and on the device -- of their choosing. "Ease of use needs to come to the home along with open standards, and it all has to be secure," Chambers said.

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