QandA: Cisco's Kurian Lays Out WAN/App Optimization Strategy

Cisco Systems on Thursday rolled out new WAN optimization and application acceleration products and a new business unit that includes those technologies. George Kurian, vice president of the newly unveiled Application Delivery Business Unit at Cisco Systems, spoke with Infrastructure Editor Jennifer Hagendorf Follett about the new products and the role channel partners will play in their deployment. Excerpts of the conversation follow.

CRN: What is the strategy behind this new business unit?

KURIAN: In terms of the products and solution sets for application acceleration and WAN optimization, Cisco offers a complete solution for customers across a range of applications and network topologies. The charter of the group, of the business unit, is to develop those sets of products, expand the capabilities that we have today, drive the partnerships together with the folks on our sales and channel marketing teams and work with some of the other parts of Cisco&s development organization to build solution sets.

We believe WAN optimization covers a broad range of network topology types that could include remote access, mobile users, it could include branch office users -- and so we offer the gamut of solutions. For example in the specific announcement today, the Application Velocity Systems product, is really focused on the remote access, consumer Web users, places in the network that aren&t what I call tethered -- meaning controlled by an enterprise endpoint. And then the WAE appliances, the Wide-area Application Engines, are for classic remote branch, small branch campus environments.

CRN: How do you see VARs and integrators playing in this area?

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KURIAN: This is a new area for channel partners to extend their relationship with Cisco. We see several value propositions to channel partners around the services components enabled by these products. Some of those service components could be application performance analysis, application network analysis to understand the sources of problems associated with the reliable delivery of an application. There&s also the whole design, network consulting and deployment aspect of these solutions and then the performance monitoring and closing the feedback loop for the customers. So we think there is a rich services aspect to these solutions that provide partners opportunity.

There are two or three different sets of partners probably enabled to take advantage of this: certainly many of our traditional networking router channels that drive branch office solutions, branch office deployments. We also see a class of application specialists who could provide specialized consultative selling services around some of the more complex aspects of the solution, and they could be folks like application VARs, application resellers who are also network resellers.

CRN: Is it fair to say there is a call for Cisco partners to start developing more application skills?

KURIAN: Yes, I think certainly there are many of them today that already have substantial application skills. We&ve talked to several of our partners that are also deployment partners for SAP or Siebel solutions or Oracle solutions. They have a networking practice and an application practice. I think what we&re trying to create within that partner community is a linkage between those two practices or between those two revenue engines, and I think this provides a nice bridge to that.

CRN: You&d expect customers to be deploying both of those new product families at the same time?

KURIAN: Customers typically deploy those two sets of capabilities at the same time, right. AVS and WAE are complementary [to each other]. We&ve found fantastic results putting the two technologies together where AVS accelerates one class of Web application and WAE accelerates the other class of Web application, so by coming to Cisco the customer can basically cover the gamut of Web-based applications across the gamut of network topologies that they&re looking to provider users access to. Most other solution providers still have to go for one set of solutions in the branch and a completely different vendor for remote access, for example.

CRN: So how significant is it from the Cisco standpoint for Cisco to say that now this is a business unit?

KURIAN: We don&t make business unit decisions lightly, as you can probably imagine, so it clearly indicates that Cisco is taking an aggressive posture about a market and an aggressive posture about a set of market opportunities and competitors. It clearly signals the intent for an aggressive set of product cycles and market-shaping activities.

CRN: And these products are coming from Cisco&s acquisition this year of FineGround and last year of Actona?

KURIAN: FineGround, Actona, and internal Cisco development. With Actona, for example, we acquired it a long time ago and we&ve done a bunch of Cisco development. One of the things I wanted to clarify: people might think that Cisco is entering the application acceleration market, and frankly we&ve been in it for a long time. The reality is that accelerating applications requires a variety of different solutions that depend on the type of application you&re trying to accelerate. Let&s take the simple case of a broadcast application. Multicasting was something Cisco developed a long time ago for a broadcast video or audio/video application. It&s [been] integrated into our packet network technologies over a period of time. We&ve also offered application layer multicasting for years with some of our wide-area content engine solutions.

Similarly, for example, one of the things we believe is important is quality of service, so in realtime jitter-sensitive, latency-sensitive applications, quality of service is the right way to optimize the performance of that application across wide-area links because you&re allowing those applications to get priority treatment. So we don&t think this is anything dramatically new. We do see there is an acceleration of some of the trends that you&re talking about in the marketplace and we do think there new technologies that we are bringing to market that will capitalize on those market opportunities, but we&ve know about this technology, we&ve been in it for a long time. We&ve got high-volume shipping products in this space for a long time.

CRN: How was this structured prior to the creation of this business unit?

KURIAN: They were parts of disparate teams in the engineering organization. There were two large teams within the engineering organization that we put together, involving several hundred people.

CRN: Can you talk a bit about the overall vision? Cisco talks a lot about building more intelligence into the network, so how does this fit in?

KURIAN: If you listen to our vision of the network, we talk about what&s called service-oriented network architecture as the umbrella message that a network provides. The enterprise service-oriented network architecture enables customers to use the network infrastructure as a dynamic, service-enabling foundation. One of the important categories of the service-oriented network architecture is what we call application-enhancing services. Application-enhancing services is really the layer of the network that is application-aware and integrates closely with the applications.

There are two categories of that: one is application delivery services, which is the area I focus on. The other is what we call application-oriented networking (AON). We announced that category awhile back. Application-oriented networking is focused on application-to-application communication, rather than client-to-application communication.

Application delivery provides two or three sets of capabilities: one is data center scale-out capabilities for application performance, and that includes things like server load balancing. The second is WAN optimization, and that includes things like our cache engines, wide-area file services, the Velocity systems and several significant product enhancements that we are very close to being able to make available to customers. The last piece is application security, which provides the policy-based management of the application layer itself from within the network.

CRN: So other product lines, like Cisco&s L4-7 switches are part of the business unit as well?

KURIAN: That&s correct.

CRN: You spoke earlier about the AON side of the house. Is there going to be integration between the things you&re working on and the AON side?

KURIAN: There are things under discussion around the integration of the technologies. Certainly there are a variety of ways we could accomplish that. You&ll see us develop a roadmap for that as we develop these technologies further.