Turning networking into software

Cisco's Don Proctor explains the networking giant's plans for its newly-formed software group.

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For the first time, Cisco has assembled all of its software assets - IOS, Unified Communications, Collaboration and Network Management - under a single organisation.

The Software Group was formed to co-ordinate product development and inject a common set of services across all of Cisco's software. Senior VP Don Proctor talks about Cisco's software plan.

Can you discuss your charter and what it means for Cisco?

We've always had a lot of software developers at Cisco. It's the bulk of what we do even though we're known as a hardware company. This is the first time we've brought all of the major software businesses together. The timing reflects the evolution of our business from being just a set of products to a real platform. I use that word carefully not to mean a platform for other Cisco engineers to build things on but a platform for our customers and partners also to build things on.

What are your priorities with the software group? What's the first order of business?

One very important thing we want to do is to share processes and practices and technology across the groups to make sure that we're continuing to meet our quality objectives. With respect to common services, making sure that when we implement, for example, an advanced signalling protocol or something that represents an advanced function in quality of service that it's implemented that same way in our applications, in our infrastructure services and in our operating system. So that customers can really get to the point where the provisioning of new services on the network is a less laborious process. The third thing is really co-ordinating some of the efforts we have across the company at building a third-party developer community, which includes IOS but also our unified communications suite and WebEx, which has been building its own ecosystem for the past couple of years.

How far up the software stack do you plan to go? Applications?

If you look at the portfolio today for the enterprise you'll see that we have solutions at every layer of the stack, all the way up to applications with our collaboration applications. What we're doing with some of the SaaS assets with WebEx is creating a new kind of information work space for the knowledge worker that allows them to build business mash-ups with the collaboration applications that we provide and the business applications provided by other suppliers.

How IT-centric does Cisco plan to play in the application space?

I think what we're really doing is investing in technologies that enable those kinds of applications. Six weeks or so ago, we announced a significant strategic alliance with Oracle - Oracle CRM will be one of the premier applications featured on our WebEx Connect offer as it goes through its beta process and moves into commercial availability early next year.

What about systems management? It seems like Cisco is evolving more into an IT operations or infrastructure company.

I haven't, to be honest, thought about it that way; although there are a couple of places in which we are making investments. [Acquired company] Securent . . . [is] an enterprise policy-management company. The whole notion of taking policy - something that's very laborious and siloed today in most enterprises - and changing it into a network service where it can support not only Cisco applications but also other business applications is pretty exciting.

Do you expect to compete with your datacentre or IT software partners more as you climb the stack?

I can't think of an instance in which we would be on more of a competitive path with our data centre partners. We made a few acquisitions in the last year in addition to some internal development that do take us into new areas of storage management, system management, virtualisation technologies and so forth.

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