• 05/17/2011
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Cloud Services, SaaS Pose WAN Bandwidth Challenges

Cisco exec Pat Calhoun discusses the challenges of ensuring enough bandwidth over wired and wireless networks to handle the needs of a modern enterprise.

What I'm seeing is people are just feeling a lot more comfortable now with .11n because it has these capabilities and it gives you the tools you need to be able to deploy with peace of mind. So within an enterprise, a huge push toward CleanAir.

InformationWeek: Cisco CIO Rebecca Jacoby talked about how people have seven devices now, but soon they're going to have 11. We see the whole open office movement, that people want to be able to walk around. Do you see us cutting the cord to the desktop?

Calhoun: I think .11n has that performance that you generally need [to do that]. Even if you have 11 devices, chances are you're not using 11 at the same time. But what we've seen in the industry over the past 10 years is that as the capacity demand increases for the network, generally you reduce your cell size. By reducing your cell size, you're reducing the number of users on an access point, and that gives you that performance boost that you need, because you're sharing less spectrum per user. So that definitely is a strategy that the industry has adopted and I think is going to continue to adopt.

When I take a look at the seven or 11 devices--I don't know if I'm ever going to have 11 devices on me, I mean, just plugging two in for battery is a pain--but video is where the challenge comes in. It's video more than anything. Normal applications generate a fair amount of traffic, but not to the point where it can actually congest a network. Video, on the other hand, definitely can present a lot of challenges from a Wi-Fi standpoint. And that's one of the reasons why, with CleanAir, we've optimized our platform for video delivery. Whether it's multicast traffic or unicast traffic, we actually have the means to transmit the traffic in a way that's highly optimized, and we're actually definitely seeing a significant increase in the amount of video going on over wireless.

InformationWeek: How are you optimizing? Can you give us any details?

Calhoun: There's a couple ways, but one of them is, obviously, it's recognizing that you have video to begin with. And that in itself is a difficult technical challenge. But once you've actually gotten through that, we have ways where, if multiple endpoints are actually trying to access the same video contents--let's say this would be a live streaming event, as an example--as opposed to sending multiple instances of the same video to the multiple users on the same access point, we have a way to deliver the traffic through a single stream. That requires us to have a lot of understanding of the type of traffic and the type of video traffic. That type of video content doesn't work for all types of video content. For instance, if you're going to YouTube, it's not all that useful, right? Because even if we're watching the same YouTube video, you're watching it before I am, so we're offset, so I can't really do that. But in a live streaming event, we can absolutely do that.

If I can add one thing, you were asking a second ago about wireless controllers. A wireless controller was announced yesterday as part of the ScanSafe news: Cisco Flex 7500 Cloud Controller.

InformationWeek: Can you tell us something about that?

Calhoun: That would be our next-generation service module for wireless; this is the first next-generation platform that actually fits inside a Catalyst switch.

We actually announced a customer--Bass Pro Shops--that's deploying the 7500 Cloud Controllers. They're able to take the controller out of each one of their retail shops. There are 54 retail shops in the U.S. and Canada that have one 7500 Cloud Controller from that to the corporate headquarters that manages the wireless networks.

InformationWeek: It's a little bit against the trend of where things are going, decentralizing the control.

Calhoun: There's two trends, and we support both: We have platforms that allow a customer that wants to have local controllers in the branch, obviously. We have controllers that fit in the ISR as well as smaller appliances. But then there are some customers that really are looking to centralize everything and try to minimize the number of devices that actually sit in the branch, or a retail store in this particular case. So either one, we actually have the offering for people to do that. In this particular example, very large stores, lots of access points, so the scaling properties required on the controller itself is extreme high. That's one of the reasons why we're seeing a lot of traction, is the fact that it can support so many access points.

InformationWeek: One question we're asking everybody is, leaving aside your products, as you've walked the show floor, what has struck you as the most interesting trend that you're seeing here?

Calhoun: I'm actually going to be walking the show floor this afternoon, so that's a tough question. I've only spent time inside the Cisco booth because I had a lot of meetings yesterday.

But one thing I'll actually mention that I've seen as I was walking around, I've seen a significant number of people get really excited around was Identity Services Engine that we talked about earlier, but also our new NCS Prime, our new network management platform that we just announced. If you have a chance to go down there and take a look, you'll see that Cisco is definitely taking a huge leap forward in terms of providing a network management platform for our customers to be able to get visibility and do troubleshooting of potential issues that may exist on their networks, both wired and wireless. It's an opportunity for them to really treat both wired and wireless as a single network.

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