Cisco Builds On Services Capabilities With Upgrade Of ISR Portfolio

Cisco on Tuesday introduced a new network architecture and services platform, Borderless Networks, that both expands the networking titan's managed services reach and coincides with an update of its entire Integrated Services Router (ISR) portfolio.

According to Cisco, the ISR portfolio's second generation, dubbed ISR G2, provides five times the performance of the original Cisco ISR, and also ties in virtualization and video service capabilities Cisco sees as crucial to the network infrastructure of the future.

The ISR refresh is designed to be the first in a five-step plan to build out Borderless Networks, an architecture whose ultimate goal, according to Cisco, is to offer its channel partners and customers more reliable video, collaborative applications and other networking services. Moreover, it wants partners to be able to deliver those services on-demand across the enterprise to any device in the network at any time, whether it's video streaming or digital signage or something else tied to the network.

"This is what I'd consider a perfect storm," said Wenceslao Lada, vice president of worldwide channels for Cisco's Borderless Networks Architecture. "It gives more flexibility and efficiency to the user of the network and stresses new business models. I think many of our channel partners have evolved to become much more value-added consultants and providers of professional services, and for them, this is a $10 billion opportunity."

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Cisco sees solution providers pursuing that $10 billion opportunity with three approaches: first, by migrating and upselling opportunities for customers' existing ISR infrastructures; second, by adding services and application integration on top of Borderless, which will be theoretically better positioned than previous Cisco architectures to support those services; and finally, by helping vertical markets like health care or financial services do all of those things in a way that meets regulatory requirements.

The Borderless Networks architecture, said Lada, is built on the idea that an enterprise's network infrastructure must account for virtual offices, secure mobile devices, foster collaboration and customizable applications, and provide scalable, rich media services.

On top of that, he said, "video is the agent of change" in how enterprises collaborate, and an up-to-date infrastructure must also account for the convergence of computing, networking and storage.

According to Cisco, the ISR G2 portfolio routers offer a better platform for video. The ISG G2 products are Medianet-ready, for example, to enable better delivery of rich media applications. They also include new video signal processors and a video-ready "media engine" (PVDM3).

The ISR G2 portfolio also offers users the ability to deploy virtual services -- up to 1 TB of on-board storage, Cisco says -- through a Services-Ready Engine, which according to Cisco, supports seven times what previous network modules could offer for performance.

The Borderless Network offerings further include Cisco's EnergyWise, a service offering, debuted by Cisco earlier this year, that measures and reports on how much power is being consumed by the various devices.

Specific product updates in the ISR G2 portfolio include the Cisco 3900 Series Integrated Services Router (starting at $9,500); the Cisco 2900 Series Integrated Services Router (starting at $1,995); the Cisco 1900 Series Integrated Services Router (starting at $1,595); and, with the whole portfolio, Cisco's IOS Release 15.0(1)M, a software update to make security, voice and IP services more user-friendly and allow existing enterprise networks to upgrade to Cisco's Borderless Networks services faster.

A la carte, services-ready engine modules start at $1,000, video-ready DSP modules start at $800 and Etherswitch modules start at $1,295. Cisco is also offering a new platform for its Aggregation Services Router, the ASR 1002-F, to deliver WAN aggregation for private WAN and Internet Edge capability on Borderless Networks. The base price for Cisco's ASR 1002-F chassis -- a fixed configuration version of the ASR 1000 series -- is $20,000.

"You're changing the services delivery model from what is was before," said Shashi Kiran, Cisco's senior manager for network systems and security. "With the entire business portfolio refreshed, all of the ISR models will be refreshed with generation 2 platforms. Also, we're not end-of-life-ing any of the current platforms in the foreseeable future, so the ISR and ISR G2 will continue to co-exist."

For the channel, Cisco will also be offering higher rebates on qualified ISR G2 SKUs, and has also doubled its trade-in credits for ISR G2 portfolio upgrades. Because the ISR G2 products have so much services potential, Cisco argues that solution providers will see much higher margins than with standard core networking deals to customers.

"It's a recognition of the value we think these partners will be able to provide to us by refreshing the technology," said Lada.

Both Lada and Kiran said they see video as a linchpin for next-generation network architecture. Cisco has of late been continuing to build out what it can offer in video from a product standpoint. Some of its most recent moves -- the pending acquisitions of videoconferencing stalwart Tandberg and mobile infrastructure specialist Starent Networks, for example -- directly inform its expanding video portfolio.

"The many forms of video are really enormous," Kiran said. "[VARs] view it as not just an opportunity to migrate to video but also get involved in conversations where users are planning for rich media sessions. There's a lot of opportunity to make a solution sell with ISR, and it's something more architectural vs. products themselves."

Next: The Value-Add For Partners

For Cisco's partners, the Borderless architecture and ISRG2 products expand the ability to offer managed services and also "future proof" Cisco-based enterprise network infrastructures for additional value-add -- through other services, products and features -- down the road.

"A good portion of our customers rely on us to manage the network infrastructure and expect us to manage a lot of different elements in the portfolio. There's a lot of growth in that," said Mike Marcellin, vice president of global managed services for Verizon. "ISR G2 brings significant benefits to a branch office environment and addresses the tremendous growth of video and video-enabled applications. We've also reached the point where if they can launch it tomorrow, we can begin talking to our customers about it tomorrow."

Marcellin said that among Verizon's strategic services partners, he sees Cisco out in front in the race to build newer, scaleable architectures.

"There are others that have some level of integrated services in all-in-one devices, but Cisco's always been among the top few out there, whether integrated or not," Marcellin added. "With the level of penetration in the integrated router market -- the future-proofing this offers -- I think there's a lot to focus on."

Dimension Data, a New York-based solution provider, is among several Cisco partners who were briefed on the Borderless architecture and ISR portfolio refresh ahead of the announcement.

"It's clear they listened to the market and created a business architecture that allows us to do more with the same footprint. It's investment protection -- you take existing platform capabilities with the ISR and enhance them," said Lawrence Van Deusen, national practice manager for network integration at Dimension Data. "It allows the customer to decide if and when they want to add certain services -- enhanced voice, more security functionality, video capabilities, whatever. They can make or plan that investment."

Van Deusen said he, too, saw video as the important difference in how future network infrastructures are built.

"Video is moving out from a specialized set of capabilities," he said. "Before, more often than not it was siloed, but now you can integrate video capability into to your core network, with the bandwidth optimized. High-definition video is no longer a service that can't be included."