Cisco is plotting a strategy that is aimed at driving the networking market leader further into the upper layers of IT infrastructures, where it would handle functions more often associated with middleware than with networking hardware.
Company executives said last month that the plan includes a future convergence of Cisco routers and switches, as well as a push for standard storage application programming interfaces, support for content management and optimisation of application performance on networks.
Some of the pieces are in place; for example, Cisco already offers a network content-transformation engine that can feed data to multiple devices. But the company said it could take up to five years to roll out what it has in mind.
Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at the Yankee Group in Boston, said that creating greater harmony between applications and the networks they run on is a critical next-generation step for networking vendors.
Laurie Vickers, an analyst at Cahners In-Stat/MDR, noted that LAN switches have become a commodity and said that vendors have to find a way to add value at the transport, session, presentation and application layers of a network.
Eugene Lee, vice president of enterprise marketing at Cisco, needs to work with application vendors to improve performance on existing networks and take advantage of emerging technologies such as gigabit-per-second data feeds to desktop devices.
But Vickers said it would take a big shift in thinking by corporate application developers to focus on networking concerns up-front. The technology envisioned by Cisco has "to be truly transparent to the user", she said. "Otherwise, they're not going to know what to do with it."