<I>CRN</I> Interview: Mike Volpi, Cisco Systems

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Mike Volpi, senior vice president of Cisco Systems' routing technology group, is angling for a bigger piece of the corporate branch-office market through the addition of features such as voice mail, security and caching to the company's traditional offerings. Following are excerpts of a recent discussion between Volpi and CRN Infrastructure Editor Larry Hooper.

CRN: Cisco is making a push to enhance the user experience at corporate branches through enhancing the functionality of the branch router. Can you elaborate on those efforts?

'It's still challenging for our customers to manage an IP telephony system or security system. So the channel creates a lot of value in designing, building and implementing the management infrastructure for these things.'

VOLPI: Today when you equip a branch office for infrastructure to do your communications, you put in a router for data systems, you put in a PBX, [and] probably some kind of a caching system in order to get your content more quickly and have better response time. You put in some kind of security product, a firewall and a VPN device.

Our idea is that, yes, we sell some of these as independent devices, but let's integrate that capability into a single system so that you can buy a branch router from Cisco,and it's really not a router anymore, it's really a service access device. You run your security in it so it actually has firewalling functionality in it,not just a little bit, but best-of-breed capability. It is a VPN device. It has a built-in capability to be a content cache. It is a small PBX system.

CRN: How will Cisco's partners participate in this?

VOLPI: The value for the channel is twofold. One is they have a platform now to upsell from. So, before, they would go in and sell the

customer on the idea of buying a firewall, [and] now, they can go in and sell a router that has many more features. Once it's in there, you can gradually upsell them on the content module, you can sell them the firewall feature set. So it allows for easier upgrade cycles for our channel.

The last piece is management and configuration.

Our customers didn't get more sophisticated overnight. It's still challenging for them to manage an IP telephony system or security system. So the channel creates a lot of value in designing, building and implementing the management infrastructure and the architecture for these things. I don't think we eliminate much value because it used to be two boxes and now it's one. The complexity is still there. The channel eliminates that complexity for the customer.

CRN: What size branch are we talking about that would make this cost-effective?

VOLPI: It can vary. It could be a retail or a financial services branch. It could be anywhere from 20 employees at the low end to 500 at the high end.

CRN: Cisco IOS Software supports call processing, but does it handle voice mail for the branch office?

VOLPI: Not yet. In the future, we'll do voice mail.

CRN: How big of a market are we talking about?

VOLPI: We sell about $4 billion [worth of] branch routers a year. It allows you to upsell that. It allows us to go after the security market, which is a few billion dollars in its own right. It allows us to go after the key system market and the PBX market, which is $5 billion or $6 billion. It allows us to go after the caching market more effectively.

CRN: Is this something your enterprise-focused VARs have told you their customers are looking for?

VOLPI: I think more than anything else, it is that they see that enterprise customers are ready to spend money on their branches. The whole idea is that, finally, there is an area that enterprise customers want to spend money on. Branches in the classical sense may be too narrow of a definition. It's the retail outlet. It's the automotive dealer. It's the Home Depot store. It's the financial services office.

CRN: Now that you have this upgradable platform in the branch that you have added security, voice and caching to, what else can we expect to be able to add to it in the future?

VOLPI: Two to three other [features]. One is low-density switching, which we already have. Another is wireless. We want to be able to split the wireless LAN access point, if you will, with the antenna and the radio staying in the ceiling and the intelligence inside the router. Then some storage over IP.

There are also further extensions within the categories we're talking about. We were talking about voice mail. That will be key to our customers because you never fully replace a key system or a PBX unless you have voice mail.

CRN: Let's go back to the content delivery technology. Everybody sees the benefit, but not a lot of companies are buying it. Do you see that turning around soon?

VOLPI: Content is a tricky one to sell in this climate. The productivity gains are very real, but for the ROI, it's a little harder to make a crisp case. We and our channel partners have to better define the ROI case. Historically, content has been very oriented around applications like e-learning. We see in the future that one of the big drivers for the technology will be acceleration of applications.

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