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5/29/2008
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With Motion, Cisco Seeks To Extend Reach

The 800-pound gorilla of wired networks is seeking to extend its control over the wireless side as well. Should IT cheer or run?

John Chambers has been talking for a couple of years now about transforming the way enterprises use and manage IT resources. With Cisco Motion, he's finally poised to deliver.

Cisco last week unveiled Motion, its new brand for mobile and wireless technology, along with an appliance, called the Cisco 3300 Series Mobility Services Engine (MSE) and due next month, that's designed to manage devices and applications across both wireless and wired networks.

MSE works exclusively with Cisco wireless gear.

The Motion strategy almost certainly is ahead of the market, as few companies are prepared to unify their wired and wireless networks and run apps across them. Still, when the 802.11n standard is ratified later this year or in early 2009, the trend toward pervasive WLANs will pick up steam--and the problems of disparate wired and wireless management will be intensified. Cisco no doubt hopes IT groups will see Motion as helping corral devices while providing a smoother upgrade path to 11n. For example, the new product includes a client manager designed to give IT greater control over the myriad types of mobile devices that employees carry. Deploying, securing, and managing these has become a pressing problem.

Of course, this level of control requires collaboration agreements. At press time, Cisco had announced a slate of partners that included Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Nokia, and Oracle but notably excluded Microsoft, Palm, Research In Motion, and Symbian. A spokeswoman says the company is "working aggressively" to bring in additional device manufacturers.


Chambers: Bring on any network, any device

Chambers: Bring on any network, any device

It would be easy to write off the new Motion strategy as an exercise in rebranding, except for two things. First, MSE includes an open API that will allow third-party applications to run on top of Cisco networking equipment. And second, Motion really is an attempt at a comprehensive solution to a multifaceted set of challenges. Mobile devices and apps can no longer be managed separately from the overall business network architecture. Laptops, smartphones, dual-mode devices that run over cellular or Wi-Fi networks--all are now as integral to enterprises as the conventional desktop PC and must be treated as such. Cisco has accomplished the neat trick of relocating mobile middleware, the software that collects and stores data on individual clients and the apps they run, in the network.

DIG DEEPER
I, NETWORK
Will the application-aware network bring us a smarter management future, or a lock-in nightmare?
Allowing third-party developers to create apps to run across multiple networks, however, won't mean much without the involvement of leading handset makers. For now, the Motion system is, essentially, a way to manage Cisco wired and WLAN gear and Nokia handsets from one pane. A big step, to be sure, but not the transformation Cisco clearly seeks.

Given the company's dominant market share, though, MSE will create an underlying platform that could give the networking company an even bigger chunk of customers' IT budgets. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps only Cisco has the networking muscle, engineering chops, and marketing clout to really pull together wired and wireless networks in a way that serves businesses. That's a goal enterprise CIOs should cheer.

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