Cisco Opens ISR To Application Developers

Cisco Systems on Thursday continued with 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 and introducing two new routers designed specifically for branch deployments.

The move gives Cisco channel partners new opportunities to offer differentiated and customized solutions that will better align with customer's business needs. Customers too 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 giant 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 (SDK) and application programming interface (API) for application developers.

The AXP offers an open interface to Cisco IOS software and is 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.

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Lasser-Raab said 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 imbeds those applications directly onto the platform, instead of having them just hosted on the router. 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," she said. "It's not just hosting applications, its tying them into the network."

Cisco also released a new AXP category in its Technology Developer Program (TDP) to give customers, independent software vendors, systems integrators and service providers technical and marketing support to create, develop and distribute AXP-based solutions. The SDK gives developers the ability to create vertical-specific solutions, unified communications-based applications and network and management utilities. Applications can integrate tightly with the underlying security, mobility, WAN optimization and unified communications capabilities offered in the ISR.

The ability to integrate applications directly onto the ISR platform gives Cisco resellers new opportunities and routes to market. VARs can differentiate their service offering sand target a broader customer base, while also reaching specific verticals.

According to Lasser-Raab, several applications are already available from Cisco TDP AXP partners such as branch infrastructure management from Avocent, healthcare solutions from InterComponentWare, branch VoIP recording from NICE, utilities infrastructure monitoring from OSISoft, IP payment processing from Precidia Technologies, management from ProSyst, IP fax from Sagem-Interstar, branch VoIP recording from Verint and workforce management from Workbrain.

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.

"This is pretty transformative," said Dave Frampton, vice president of marketing for Cisco's access technology group. "It turns the router market into something different."

NEXT: Two New ISR Series Unveiled

Frampton said opening up the ISR arms VARs with the ability to talk to customers about their business challenges in the branch and offer them solutions around them.

"They can go have a new conversation with a customer," he said.

Cisco partners agreed.

"It will provide a lot of opportunities," said Paul Cronin, senior vice president of Atrion Networking, a Warwick, R.I.-based solution provider. ""I have a compelling reason to go back and engage with customers."

Cronin added that it also gives Cisco partners the ability to team up with other partners to offer a more robust solution.

"It's a great opportunity for me to tap a partner, go in with a collaborative approach and come up with a business solution," he said.

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, he said.

"They turned a router into a little server," Cronin said. "It gives me a change at looking into doing my own application development."

According to Cisco, the Application eXtension Platform is shipping now. The Advanced Integration Module (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.

Along with opening up the ISR platform to third-party developers, Cisco also released the WAAS WAE-674 Wide Area Application Engine for acceleration of centralized data center applications and local application hosting. The WAE-674 offers WAN optimization services and can be upgraded with embedded virtualization software to support virtual blades for hosting Microsoft Windows Server 2008 along with future off-the-shelf applications. Essentially, users can centralize from the branch into the data center and still offer strong application performance across the WAN and retaining the Windows platform in the branch.

Cisco announced the integration of Windows Server 2008 and Cisco WAAS technology in February, and the Cisco WAAS WAE-674 is the first Cisco WAN optimization platform to enable the capability. The appliance lists for $16,000.

Cisco on Thursday also unveiled two new series of ISRs for the branch integrating 802.11n, the latest wireless LAN standard. The 880 and 860 Series are fixed-configuration routers and integrated lightweight access points that support Cisco Unified Wireless and 802.11n wireless LAN technology.

Select models of the 880 series will feature an integrated 3G wireless WAN interface. Other modules will provide specialized support for managed services, including managed voice and SIP trunking support. The 880 and 860 Series ISRs will be available in June. The Cisco 861 Series lists for $449 and $649 with fast Ethernet. The Cisco 888 will list for $1,295.

Lastly, Cisco introduced enhancements to its Unified Boarder Element, a set of Cisco ISO software features that provide Session Boarder Control in the ISR with support of SIP profiles, SIP video and interconnect enhancements for device interoperability and management of unified communications deployments. Cisco also launched its Configuration Professional Management Software, a tool that enables the integrated management of voice, security and data services on Cisco routers.