Earlier this month, Cisco Systems bolstered its strategy to empower the branch office by opening up the Integrated Services Router (ISR) and the Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) platforms to third-party applications developers. Cisco is also debuting two new routers designed specifically for branch deployments.
These moves give Cisco channel partners new opportunities to offer differentiated and customized solutions. Customers also will be able to optimize the branch office infrastructure using the ISR, which just reached 4 million deployed.
At the Cisco Partner Summit 2008 in Honolulu, the San Jose, Calif.-based networking heavyweight unveiled the Cisco Application eXtension Platform (AXP). The AXP consists of open, Linux-based Cisco ISR hardware modules for application development and hosting to support a tighter integration of the network and applications. According to Inbar Lasser-Raab, Cisco's senior director of access routing and switching, several off-the-shelf and custom applications are already available for the ISR, along with a development and support ecosystem that includes a downloadable software development kit and application programming interface for application developers.
The AXP offers an open interface to Cisco IOS software, delivered through network modules and Advanced Integration Modules (AIMs) on the ISR. Lasser-Raab said several applications can be supported concurrently on one AXP module.
Opening the ISR to third-party applications, on top of the more than 30 services already available for the platform, creates a link between the network and applications and embeds those applications directly onto the platform, instead of having them merely hosted on the router, Lasser-Raab said. Services available for the ISR include VoIP, wireless, WAN access, unified communications and a host of security tools like NAC, IPS, content filtering and VPN.
"It links applications tightly to the network," Lasser-Raab said. "It's not just hosting applications; it's tying them into the network."
Cisco also released a new AXP category in its Technology Developer Program (TDP) to give customers, independent software vendors, system integrators and service providers technical and marketing support to create, develop and distribute AXP-based solutions. The ability to integrate applications directly onto the ISR platform gives Cisco resellers new opportunities and routes to market. VARs can differentiate their service offerings and target a broader customer base, while reaching specific verticals. Lasser-Raab said a handful of applications are already available from Cisco TDP AXP partners such as branch infrastructure management from Avocent Corp., Huntsville, Ala. and health care solutions from InterComponentWare Inc., San Mateo, Calif.
Third-party development will come on three tiers, Lasser-Raab said. The first tier is customers, who can create their own applications, the second is ISVs and partners who can develop applications and sell them along with the ISR, and the third tier allows Cisco to identify certain applications and OEM and sell them as an option on the branch routers, opening up a single line of support.
"It will provide a lot of opportunities," said Paul Cronin, senior vice president of Atrion Networking Corp., a Warwick, R.I.-based solution provider.
Cronin said that it also gives Cisco partners the ability to team up with other partners to offer a more robust solution. Additionally, Cronin said opening the ISR to third-party application development can enable VARs to start developing their own applications to sell to customers along with the ISR platform. Because applications are repeatable, they offer a new way for VARs to profit.
"They turned a router into a little server," Cronin said. "It gives me a chance at looking into doing my own application development."
According to Cisco, the AXP is currently shipping. The AIM-102 has a list price of $1,795. The EtherSwitch Network Module (NME-302) lists for $3,500 and the EtherSwitch Networking Module (NME-522) lists for $5,000.