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Innovating In a Fragile Economy

Last weekend, on my marriage anniversary, I took my wife out to a fancy restaurant she cherishes. It usually requires reservations, and has a nice ambience with a quiet seating conducive for gentle conversation. Imagine our surprise when we found the restaurant had changed not just its menu, but also its business model and introduced a buffet section. Instead of a relaxed atmosphere, there was a sense of urgency. Menus were brought much quicker, food was served faster and the waiter came by a few times after a while to”check if we were doing allright”. We got the hint and left quickly. No, they weren’t being discourteous. It’s just their new business model demanded they service customers quickly and increase turnover to improve cashflow. With customers tightening wallets, they were just trying to survive. On the way back, we hit a mom-and-pop grocery store we frequent, which also had made a few changes. Previously with wide aisles, they now had a video rental in one corner, a take-out service in another and had sub-leased yet another corner of the store to a travel agent, who sat at a desk with a computer and phone booking air-travel and cruises. Sure the aisles got squeezed, but these guys were trying to increase revenue per customer. It looked like a win-win with the grocery owner amortizing expenses, the travel agent having low-set up costs, and us, the customers getting”integrated services”. There is gloom in the financial services industry and the retail sector, but nimble business owners are offsetting the economic downturn by focusing on operational efficiency and productivity, through innovative out-of-the-box thinking.This brought into mind a conversation I recently had with Zeus Kerravala, a Senior Vice President at the Yankee Group. I’ve known Zeus for a while and he’s usually at the epicenter of innovation. During a typical Network-related conversation he made some comments on innovation and the economy that I thought had a broader applicability across multiple businesses and had a common-sense approach. He postulated that in a down market economy, it is easy for an IT department to overly focus on cost savings, or even do nothing, but this posed a danger to the business falling apart. Simply put, I read his words that investing in innovation is important independent of whether the economy is looking up or down, so we can expect a return-on-investment. He said depending on the economy, such innovations could be driven from the IT departments or the business units. Zeus cited video collaboration through Cisco Telepresence as an example of a business unit driven innovation. Read More »

Medianets – where do you want your network to go today?

Last October, I presented a paper on Video-delivery networks at the MPLS 2008 conference. The audience reaction was quite positive and I enjoyed talking to a bunch of service providers, some other vendors and a few Enterprise customers on how they saw their networks and products evolving. Almost all of them saw video traffic as a major inflection point in their networks and were aligning their strategies to deal with it. Later, as we gathered for lunch, there was a healthy but spirited discussion mostly around video quality-of-experience, and which network architectures were best suited to deliver this. Why so much interest? Simple. Video will be the dominant application on networks. Service Providers envision business video as a good source of revenue and are preparing differentiated offerings, but also understand that their netwowk need to carry consumer video. Enterprise customers recognize the bandwidth and storage demands video will impose and are preparing for it. Vendors obviously are building products, and working on common and proprietary standards to best position themselves in their customer networks. Clearly, there is traction. (The Cisco Visual Network Index projects video to be 90% of network traffic by 2012). And it isn’t just one type of video or for a specific end application. It also isn’t just delivering video over IP -it really is about delivering rich media content anywhere, anytime and to any device with personalization and a high degree of reliability. So, the multi-billion dollar question -Is your Network Media ready?With video and rich-media applications becoming the dominant traffic in networks, last week, at C-scape, Cisco took the next step in this innovative evolution to announce “medianets“. This new class of technologies is designed to enable advanced communications, collaboration and entertainment experiences through video- and rich media-optimized service provider, business, and home networks.In one of my previous blogs, Zeus Kerravala, SVP, Yankee Group talks about cool ideas for the Cisco developer contest and makes a key point -the best ideas are where the network and application come together, with the application being able to tap the intelligence of the network, being able to address congestion issues etc. In other words, being “network-aware”. Medianets do all this, and more, by being media, endpoint and network-aware. They are largely based on open standards and created by adding new technologies and devices to converged IP architectures. Check out the Media Experience Engine. Read More »

Developer, Developer – where do you code from?

I wanted to share information on the countries we’re getting registrations from. Can I just be honest and confess I found a registration coming from a country I had never heard about? In fact, had to google the name to find out if it was really a country…any guesses on which country stumped me? Hint: It’s the one with the Wiki link>. Check these out:Angola, Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Canada, China, Columbia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Equador, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Italy, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Peru, Phillipines, Portugal, Republic of Taiwan, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden,Thailand,Tunisia, Turkey, USA, UK, Vietnam, Venezuela.We’ve heard of developed countries and developing countries. How about we introduce developer countries?While a majority of the initial registrants were from the US of A, we’re seeing the bulk of registrants come from all over the world, both from English speaking countries and non-English speaking countries. It’s certainly taking a while for the non-English speaking world to become aware of the contest, and our friends out there are helping out by putting front-ends for countries like China, Japan and Korea etc. There is also a request from some of these countries to extend Phase-1 as it took a while for them to customize the contest to local languages and we’re seriously considering that. For now, we’re averaging a healthy 60-70 registrants per week, and the proposals are starting to come in the last few weeks with pretty cool ideas. We do expect the number of proposals to scale up as we near the end of Phase-1. Read More »

Cisco AXP Virtual Blade – Really Virtual or Virtually Real?

In one of my previous blogs, I’d posted that we’re providing an AXP “Virtual blade” based on the VMware player. Frankly, this has been available on our developer website for sometime, we probably hadn’t publicized it enough -- so I thought I’d help provide a pointer to that. What is the AXP VMware Virtual blade? It’s a virtual development environment that emulates the Cisco Application Extension Platform, including the CLI, . It is portable, which means you can download it to your PC and it can simulate nearly everything that the actual AXP physical module does, including API calls to the router. Simply put, it is yet another way we’re trying to make life easier for people who want to develop applications on the Cisco Integrated Services Router.Why is this important? We think it will help developers itching to get their hands on the AXP, the closest thing to the real deal. If you’re an organization with a number of developers who need access to the module, this is an easy way to scale. Also, you can do pretty interesting stuff with it like (a) try before you buy (b) you can code offline on a long aeroplane flight like my esteemed geek friend Jimmy Ray Purser does, or (c) while sitting at the beach (just tell your boss you’re telecommuting). Oh, and did I mention, that it is FREE? How cool is that? I asked Anurag Gurtu, our router TME to put together a short Camtasia-based demo to tell you where you can download this from and provide some basic configuration tips. You’re probably going to say Anurag’s doing a bad job at lip syncing, but it is his earnest effort to get the demo to you guys before he took a flight to Johannesburg.So, for all of you, who have registered for the Cisco Think Inside the Box Developer contest, and want to get your hands on the AXP, for now, this is as good as it gets. If you get shortlisted as a finalist with your proposal, you will of course get access to the Integrated Services Router, the AXP module and any other development environment that we can help put together to let you demonstrate a proof-of-concept of your application. And if you’ve more questions, drop a comment here, or on the Cisco AXP Developer resources site. Have you checked that out lately?

Crossing the Chasm

As we navigate through the Developer contest, we’re often asked what is our target audience? Valid question, don’t you think? So, I thought it worthwhile to dedicate some blog space to it. The primary audience for the Think Inside the Box contest are many and include the network application developers, the vertical domain application experts, the Linux and Open Source programmers, IT network engineers, University students as also our traditional VARs and ISVs. Certainly the playground is fairly broad. However, some are perhaps at a natural advantage as they get the concept much more easily than others, possibly due to their background. For instance, ISVs who are exposed to Cisco routers and constantly deal with customers have a fundamental understanding of the problem space, and are probably in a better position to define a better solution to address it. University students and traditional application developers may be very good at what they do, but they may not have a true understanding of the branch problem statement and have to spend cycles to understand this. Our goal is to level the playing field. In that process, if we develop (no pun intended) a better relationship with the developer community and help them cross the chasm to understand the Network as a platform, we’ll give ourselves a pat on the back.With that objective, we’re going to enrich this site and other related ones to bring additional focus to the traditional application developers, the Linux programmers etc., and expose them to the branch concepts, the Integrated Service router in general and the AXP platform in particular. We’re also going to make some of the developer tools available well in advance, including VMware based AXP virtual blades that will help contest entrants and the community at large to start getting their feet wet.For this blog, I talked to Anurag Gurtu, our lead Technical Marketing Engineer to outline some of the basic concepts around the Cisco AXP and bring a developer’s perspective. Now, Anurag is a sharp guy. He went on to explain how application developers and Linux programmers can bring a sense of co-relation to actually developing some innovative ideas on the router. Enjoy! Read More »