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Cisco positions IP networks as the platform for video

The networking vendor has unveiled new products and a

Much the same way data traffic fueled the first wave of the Internet’s growth, Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) believes video will fuel the second wave. And the networking vendor is investing to ensure it will deliver the IP network that will drive that growth.

In a Telepresence video conference briefing with international media from Cisco’s C-Scape analyst conference in San Jose, Calif., Marthin De Beer, senior vice-president of Cisco’s Emerging Technologies group, said it’s going to take a new architectural approach to allow businesses, consumers and service providers to fully leverage and capitalize on the power of video and digital media.

Particularly in the last six months, said De Beer, the economic situation has brought video to the forefront, as organizations look to make employees more efficient, communicate more effectively and cheaply with each other and with customers, and make decisions more quickly.

“We believe that customers are really validating this,” said De Beer, adding that rich media transport already accounts for half of Internet traffic, and the figure is expected to reach 90 per cent within four years. “The predominant traffic type of the future will indeed be rich media and in order to carry all this media traffic, the network will have to fundamentally change. Cisco will lead that transformation.”

The new Cisco technology is designed to enable advanced video and rich media communications that have been optimized at the network level for service providers, businesses and home networks, which the vendor is calling “medianets.” De Beer said a great deal of intelligence will reside within the network, allowing content to be optimized and delivered to any endpoint device with an optimal user experience.

“It’s a network of networks approach,” said De Beer.

A part of the vision is Cisco’s Telepresence video-conferencing solution, which is now available as a service and, within 12 months, in a consumer edition. Cisco’s video family also includes physical security solutions, unified communications and digital media.

Helping to drive the next-generation network will be the newly-launched Cisco Media Experience Engine 3000, which is designed to take media content from any source and optimize it for any endpoint device. It also provides media conversion, real-time post production, editing, formatting, and network distribution capabilities in a single networked solution. And launched last month was the Cisco ASR 9000.

“Video has never been perfect. Many of us have tried to access media from different devices, and if format wasn’t right or the network was bad it wouldn’t work well,” said De Beer. “(The solution) will transform content as it flows through medianet to deliver the optimal experience to any device. What this means is the content doesn’t change and the endpoint doesn’t have to change, the medianet does all the work.”

One impressive feature Cisco is highlighting is automatic speech recognition and real time language translation of streaming video, allowing a Telepresence conference between Japan and North America to be conducted in different languages on either end.

“We think this will be a very powerful notion,” said De Beer. “And not just for live meetings. It could be a Bollywood movie.”

The medianet will also enable interoperability, allowing Telepresence to connect with any standards-compliant video conferencing solution, including Microsoft, Tandberg and Polycom, both legacy and high definition systems. De Beer even claims medianet will scale-up Webcam video to near 1080p quality.

Cisco got its start routing data, said De Beer. Now it’s all about video routing. And there will be significant opportunity for the channel.

“Partners that have been working with Cisco in the networking area will be very ready to be deploying medianets in the future,” said De Beer. “At the end of the day it won’t just be medianet. Every router and every switch we’ll be selling will have a new set of capabilities to make them medianet-ready.”

It’s a broad play, said De Beer, and the channel business case isn’t just with the sale of systems, but with the upgrade of the network. There’s a real ROI for partners, he said, to go back to customers and help them solve the challenges they’re facing today.

But while the medianet strategy will drive great opportunity for Cisco’s routing and switching partners, De Beer said it will also be the chance for Cisco and its partners to work with new partners in areas such as digital video solutions and digital signage, and for current partners to consider expanding into these areas.

“This isn’t a concept or a marketing project; we have two major products available today and this is just the first announcement,” said De Beer. “This isn’t something that’s 10-years out. It starts today.”

In his keynote address to C-Scape attendees, Cisco president and CEO John Chambers assured analysts the vendor has a proven playbook for dealing with economic downturns. At a time when many companies are getting out of emerging markets he says Cisco plan is to go deeper, and engage deeper with customers around the world. Headcount will also be re-aligned to focus on 26 key market opportunities, including collaboration, Web 2.0, video, virtualization/data centre, and virtualization.

“What we will play is an architectural game, not a product game, betting on market transitions,” said Chambers.

He also promised a major play for Cisco in the home market, leveraging the work of Linksys and Scientific Atlanta along with the medianet strategy to make an architecture play for the easy access of video and digital media content, first though various home network devices and then anywhere in the world. The company will free up resources over the next 12 months and move them into consumer areas, key among them the provision of entertainment and other rich content by carriers to homes, he said.

“We think the time has come for Cisco to make a huge play in the home,” said Chambers.