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Alexander Wolfe
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Branding Brilliance Behind Cisco's Borderless Networks

Our Server Den columnist says that Cisco is smartly encapsulating the deep technology of next-gen networks supporting mobile workers and streaming video, but Juniper and HP ProCurve won't stand idly by.

Cisco CEO John Chambers is a worthy successor to Steve Jobs as the industry's best packager/marketeer of complex technology. Consider how he's taken the consumer-impenetrable network switch and publicized it as a touchy-feely movie streaming machine. Or how teleconferencing systems previously associated with deathly boring meetings are being commercialized as fun video chat portals for Ellen Page and friends. But wait; there's more. . .

The networking behemoth's latest foray is of a piece with what I call the "Intel-ization" of Cisco. That's its obvious intention to become a public-facing brand at least as well known as the chipmaker, even if the general public has little clue about what its products actually do.

I'm speaking about Wednesday's "Borderless Networks" announcement, in which Cisco unveiled a boatload of switches and software upgrades, all with the intention of supporting the morphing of networks everywhere from the old model of fixed-location users sending and receiving data, to the rapidly emerging model of large numbers of occasionally connected mobile users accessing video and other harder-to-support data types.

It's complex stuff, and it's incredibly hard to summarize, explain, and digest, even to network-knowledgeable people. Indeed, that humungous sentence in the previous paragraph is probably the most succinct rendering of the import of Cisco's Borderless Networks announcement that you'll read anywhere. If I'm patting myself on the back (and, hey, somebody's got to), it's only because I despair of the fact that, outside of network geeks, most of this stuff is impenetrable to people.

Do you really think that even most casual tech watchers understand the challenges presented by the large numbers of mobile workers, who are going to be dipping onto and off of network endpoints in increasing numbers, as corporations decide to apply the capacity they've mostly got sitting there anyway to extract more value from their smartphone- and laptop-equipped employees?

The top-level challenge is obviously security, because making it easy for authorized workers to ride your net also undercuts existing protections against bad actors. Add to that the need for better policy assessment, through which you have to parse which users can go where and access what.

Oh, did I mention energy management? Sure, you throw a "green" slogan on this stuff, the better to keep the carbon-footprint-concerned folks happy. But, hey, with all these new users, you're actually paying real bucks to keep the network lights on, so consumption control is indeed crucial.

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