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John Soat
John Soat

CIOs Uncensored: When It Comes To IT, Cool Is As Cool Does

Sure, Steve Jobs is the King of Cool--but cool is as cool does.

Is IT cool? After you've finished guffawing, consider this: Why is Apple's Steve Jobs the king of cool, but very little of that tech glitz and glamour seems to rub off on IT?

I had the chance to speak with Lance Perry, VP of IT at Cisco Systems. Perry wanted to talk about Cisco's infrastructure play, known as Service-Oriented Network Architecture (or Cisco's PR people wanted him to talk about SONA, is probably more like it). I have to admit, Perry made IT sound pretty cool.

SONA is Cisco's attempt to turn itself from a routers-and-switches company into an enterprise data center technology provider. SONA involves using Cisco technology to embed services into the network, like security, virtualization, and application management.

Cisco began rearchitecting its corporate network along the lines of SONA several years ago. "My responsibility was running the global infrastructure." Perry says, and one of his first priorities was converging Cisco's separate voice and data networks onto a single IP-based network.

What's cool about that? Perry offers this example. He and a colleague were in the Singapore Airport with a few hours between flights. The airport advertised free wireless capability, so his colleague logged on, VPNed into the Cisco network, put on his headphones, and started a conversation that lasted more than an hour. When he finished, he told Perry he'd been talking with his wife, who was worried about the mounting cost of the call. He told her he was calling over the Cisco network, and it was free. "It was the first time in a 20-year marriage she was impressed by what he did at Cisco," says Perry.

Another important aspect of the SONA strategy is support for high-speed video capability. "More than 25,000 Cisco employees worldwide access video telephony services from their PCs by using the Cisco Unified Video Advantage camera and software," according to the company. Perry says it helped him keep a date with his daughter by letting him do four videoconferences in a single day, rather than hopping on an airplane. "That's double what I would have accomplished [by traveling], and I still made the father-daughter dance," he says.

Cisco is heavily invested in video, both internally and externally, marketing a room-sized, high-quality, multiscreen videoconferencing system called TelePresence. The company has 120 implementations of TelePresence around the world, Perry says--"double that in the next year"--and when his son saw TelePresence for the first time, he declared it the coolest he'd ever seen. "Now Dad's cool," Perry says.

Cisco is based in San Jose, Calif. But Perry was talking with me from Edison, N.J., where he's helping care for his ailing father. Perry says Cisco's Edison office has TelePresence, which helps him feel connected to California. "Just getting out to the office and seeing the guys I work with helps with my sanity," he says. In a few days, his employer will install Cisco's enterprise-class teleworker setup, which includes a wireless router, an IP phone, and video capabilities, in his father's second-floor apartment. Cisco has been very supportive of Perry, and the company's IT infrastructure helps him to be able to do his job. "If it had come down to my dad or my job, my dad would have won," he says. This way, he has both.

Whether Cisco is the only technology provider that can make this happen isn't the point. The point is, it can happen. And that makes IT cool.

You know what's cool? Our new blog, CIOs Uncensored. And that makes anybody who contributes to it cool, too. Share your comments at CIOs Uncensored, or contact him directly at [email protected] or 516-562-5326.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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