Taking those in reverse order: Cisco has recognized that mobile devices and applications 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 as the traditional desktop PC, and must be treated the same.
To accomplish that, the Cisco engineers have accomplished the neat trick of re-locating mobile middleware -- the software that collects and stores data on individual clients and the apps they run -- in the network. It's a concrete example of Chambers' koan-like slogan, "The network is the platform."
"They are doing what OSes have done over the years, gathering common functionality into a common point" (the box in this case), wireless analyst Craig Mathias tells me in an e-mail, "and then making that box a network resource."
More important, Cisco, which made its fortune on all-inclusive proprietary networking gear, has embraced the movement toward open standards and open systems that is sweeping the telecom (see Verizon Wireless), Web-based applications (see Google), and mobile devices (see Apple's iPhone and Google's Android) worlds. The new Mobility Services Engine features an open API, meaning that third-party applications will run on top of Cisco networking equipment, thus creating an underlying platform that could give the San Jose-based networking giant an even bigger chunk of customer companies' IT budgets.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps only Cisco has the networking muscle, the engineering chops, and the marketing elan to really pull together wired and wireless networks in a way that serves businesses. Chambers' aim is to create a unified software layer that spans multiple network types -- wireline Ethernet, public cellular, in-building Wi-Fi, RFID, even wireless sensor nets like Zigbee -- along with virtually any type of device, from laptops to RFID tags to embedded sensors. That's a goal that enterprise CIOs should cheer.