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Transforming Business Processes with Business Tablets like the Cisco Cius

When I meet with customers, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is what makes a tablet suitable for enterprise use. It’s a great question. I then share my thoughts – and they in turn provide theirs.

The timing’s right to consider this – at least when considering projections, such as from Deloitte, which are forecasting that 50% of computing devices in 2011 will NOT be PC’s – but will be tablets or smartphones. The landscape’s changing indeed.

So, for those of you considering a tablet solution to redefine how your employees go about their work, here are some key areas I’ll share that your colleagues are thinking about. That you may want to consider as you sort through the landscape of tablet options available to you to change your business processes:

  • How important is it that your tablet solution is fully integrated into your communications capabilities, such as voice and/or video interoperability, secure social messaging or offering full desktop computing?
  • Is corporate governance and compliance in your enterprise a factor? For example, are detailed call records, secure call recording with redundant backup systems key record keeping capabilities for your business, due to regulatory requirements?

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On Consumerisation, Spatial Streams and Why RF Matters

The devil, as they say, is in the details.

One of the key tenets of engineering is to reduce complexity, but in doing so it is important to understand the implications. While we might try to view one technology as it relates to another to help us simplify the details, it is important that we recognise how and where they differ.

Case in point.

When it comes to wireless networks, I often talk about how there are two questions I dislike being asked more than any others:

  1. How many clients can connect to an access point?
  2. What is the maximum range of an access point?

The reason is that I believe they are the wrong questions. They are being asked from perspective of someone trying to relate to a wireless network as if it were a wired network. What they are really asking is “how many switch ports do I need to cover this area?”

But wireless networks are not switched networks. While each connected device in a wired network has its own physical cable, and thereby its own gigabit Ethernet link, in a wireless network, every device connected to a particular access point shares the same RF spectrum, the same total available bandwidth.

For a standard access point in today’s deployments, that means a maximum total bandwidth of 144Mbps on the 2.4GHz band with a 20MHz channel and 300Mbps on the 5GHz band with a 40MHz channel using channel bonding.

But that is an over simplification.

Those aggregate bandwidths assume each client is connected at the highest available data rate. As we increase range, however, the data rate decreases, thereby reducing the overall channel utilisation. Therefore, with fewer access points, we are not just sharing a limited amount of bandwidth with more clients, but we are actually reducing the total available bandwidth.

Interference, particularly as access points cover larger areas, becomes an even greater issue. An increase in the signal to noise ratio leads to a decrease in the maximum sustainable data rate. This again reduces the overall channel utilisation.  The key here is that a wireless network’s ability to not only detect, but where possible mitigate interference is critical to its ability to sustain higher data rates and maximise the total available bandwidth in each cell.

All this assumes that the wireless clients connecting to the network are even capable of supporting those high data rates.

Most smartphones on the market today support only 802.11g in the 2.4GHz band, meaning that at most they can support 54Mbps.

Newer devices, such as the iPhone 4, support 802.11n, but only in 2.4GHz, and only with a single antenna, limiting them to a single “spatial stream”—in simple terms that means the maximum data rate they can support is 72Mbps.

This applies to tablet devices as well. While the new iPad2 supports 802.11n in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz band, it too is limited to a single spatial stream. The Cius goes one step further with support for channel bonding in 5GHz, increasing the maximum data rate to 150Mbps.

Interestingly, we are now starting to see new access points enter the market using Atheros’ first-generation silicon supporting three spatial streams. While this increases the maximum data rate in the 5GHz band to 450Mbps, as we have just seen, this will have no impact on the multitude of mobile devices given their single spatial stream limitation.

Three spatial streams represents a key milestone for the 802.11 standard, and will become increasingly important over the next 2 to 3 years as battery technology improves and wireless chipsets incorporate better power saving designs. Of course, by that time we will be looking at access points supporting four spatial streams and 600Mbps—and again, be waiting for the mobile devices to catch up.

Adding to the complexity in all this are the applications these devices are running across the network. From FaceTime and Skype, to Business Video and Personal Telepresence, voice, and video in particular, are replacing data as the primary traffic type. However, the wireless networks that have been built over the last several years were not designed for voice and video, and certainly not at the device densities we are now seeing.

As we look to support these many different mobile devices entering the market today along with their high bandwidth applications, clearly the two key areas we must consider in our wireless network designs are access point density to control cell sizes, and interference detection and mitigation capabilities to ensure that we maximise the channel utilisation in each cell.

And so, I’d like to propose two different questions to consider at the start of a wireless deployment:

  1. How many different devices do you expect to connect to the wireless network?
  2. And what are the applications that will run across the network and what are their associated bandwidth requirements?

Wireless and wired networks fundamentally differ at the physical layer. While its not necessarily important to understand the details of RF communications, it is important to understand the implications.

RF Matters.

Stay mobile. Stay secure.


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Choosing a Tablet for the Enterprise

Walking the floor of Enterprise Connect (formerly VoiceCon) today, one is immediately struck by the variety of tablets hitting the marketplace.  IT managers have a plethora of devices to choose from and it’s clear the tablet can become more than just another endpoint – it can become a tool for dramatically improving mobile productivity and employee engagement.

Based on what customers are telling us, here are a variety of points we feel are critical to consider as IT managers look to deploy tablets across the enterprise:

1.      Security, Security, Security: When deploying enterprise wide tablets, IT managers should consider how the device will provide business-grade security – including media encryption, device authentication, network security on both wired and wireless networks, and VPN connectivity.

2.      Extension of Collaboration Architecture: Users should be able to easily and seamlessly take advantage of a variety of existing collaboration capabilities such as business-grade voice communications, conferencing in all forms, Instant Messaging (IM), presence, email, and virtual teaming from a single mobile device.

Choosing a tablet that fits enterprise needs

3.      Enterprise Administration & Management: IT administrators are keen on simplifying the administration and management of tablets by retaining a common dialing plan, ensuring interoperability with other user devices, and bulk provisioning for scalable deployments. IT managers should also have the choice, by user, to grant (or deny) permissions to download applications from various marketplaces based on existing security and provisioning policies.

4.      Interoperable Video Communications: Our enterprise customers require a tablet solution that not only natively supports mobile video using a common dialing plan, but is also interoperable with existing multi-vendor video solutions and video standards such as H.264.

5.      Powerful Computing Capability: For business use, our customers think a tablet should have processing power that enables the consumption and sharing of data as well as the creation and editing of content – to deliver a full desktop experience.

6.      It’s In the Cloud: Desktop virtualization lets you flexibly and securely host software applications in the data center and use the network to deliver those applications as a service anytime and anywhere. Our customers are saying this virtualized environment should extend seamlessly to the device.

7.      Commitment to Open Source: Enterprise tablets that use open platforms, such as the Android OS, can tap into an expanding Android developer community for building business-class productivity applications and even allow customers to develop their own custom applications.

What would you add to this list and how do the needs of your enterprise compare? I look forward to seeing your suggestions in the comments below.

For more information about tablet choices and Cisco’s Cius, please visit here.

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Mobile Videoconferencing: Take Your Meetings on the Road

When The Who sang about going mobile, they were talking about taking a vacation with no particular destination in mind, not smartphones. But that song could be an anthem for the times: These days, just about every one of us uses a smartphone or mobile device, whether to check email, update our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and to attend teleconferences. But using your phone to attend to a videoconference? That’s the new trend.

Wait, what, mobile videoconferencing? Yes, thanks to a slew of different devices, videoconferencing on mobile devices is the next big thing—a trend that’s predicted to hit “critical mass” in 2011. Here at Cisco we recognize that mobility is a key trend—and one that unites our Collaboration, Borderless Networks, and video strategies. Essentially, we should be able to connect anytime, from anywhere, to any device.

So what’s influencing the rise in mobile videoconferencing? Here’s the rundown, as well as a list of Cisco solutions that help with videoconferencing, and an example of one the ways that one of our partners is responding to the trend.

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Santa’s Supply Chain – Get Something NEW and EXCITING!

I was thinking about all the supply chain agility issues Santa would have this year – probably the same every year. Like the fact that he has to deliver to hundreds of millions of folks on one particular day of the year.

He’s been doing this for hundreds of years with only one workshop – not located anywhere near any major distribution routes and with a small but obviously highly productive workforce. Add to this his orders come in only a few weeks before 25th December – some on the 24th! And somehow he hasn’t any carry over stock on the 26th. Miss the 25th and you’ve had it!

Downside of this squeeze is that you can often get that same ol’ pair of socks, that boring polyester tie or that colorful sweater that you’ll never wear. Maybe even a lump of coal if you’re really unlucky. So here’s a message to  Santa… Read More »

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