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Cisco CEO Chambers' Message: Improve Interactions, Not Just Transactions

Chambers' speech emphasized how IT needs to move into more-complicated interactions--and how networks must change to make it happen.

Speaking at the technology trade show Interop in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers extolled information technology as a driver of productivity and described his vision of a more intelligent, self-defending network as a means to that end.

"Security has to be completely pervasive across the network," he said. "It has to be like the human body. It has to be self-defending."

As if to illustrate his point -- that protective perimeters are old-fashioned -- he left the safety of the stage to roam among the audience. Security, as Chambers sees it, has to be everywhere, part of the network architecture.

His presence among the spectators also echoed his contention that while recent IT-driven productivity gains have come from improving transactions, the gains of the next decade will arise from improving interactions.

Transactions can be thought of as businesses processes made more efficient through network technology, such as an online employee-benefits system. Interactions represent the high-value work employees can accomplish as a result of having to devote less time to mundane tasks that inhibit productivity.

As an example, Chambers cited how retailer Home Depot might use RFID technology to make the checkout process more efficient and more profitable. He also singled out health care as an area that stands to benefit from the efficiencies of IT. He pointed to the Central Utah Hospital having saved 35% on transcription costs and gained 20% in physician productivity though the judicious use of IT.

The networked, hyperefficient world Chambers described only works with security as an integral part. It's not something that can be added after the fact. "Intrusion detection is an oxymoron," he said. "Once you've detected, you're already in trouble."

Key to Chambers' vision of the Self-Defending Network is the Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance 5500 Series ($3,495 to $16,995), which was introduced Tuesday at the Interop show. The product is designed to stop attacks before they spread through the network.

The ASA 5500 combines the security, VPN, and routing capabilities that previously would have typically required several pieces of hardware, resulting in easier management and lower cost. Tom Russell, director of Storage Technologies Group marketing at Cisco, estimates that the ASA series offers a 50% to 75% capital expenditure savings when compared with the handful of boxes it can replace.

The ASA 5500 includes what Cisco calls "Anti-X" defenses -- against the worms, viruses, Trojan programs, and spyware normally referred to as malware -- as well as intrusion prevention, network traffic inspection, and denial-of-service prevention. It also offers application security to protect networked business applications such as voice over IP and databases. And it facilitates control of Web URL access, peer-to-peer applications, and IM usage.

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