Cisco Opens the ISR

An open-software plan furthers Cisco's push to house applications on branch-office routers

Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

April 10, 2008

4 Min Read
Cisco Opens the ISR

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is widening the scope of its Integrated Services Routers (ISRs) by opening the software to developers, creating the possibility of new branch-office applications that tap the network.

The Application Extension Platform (AXP), announced today, delivers on Cisco's previous hints about opening up its software. More important, it continues Cisco's push to make routers the origination point for services, increasing the importance of networking to an enterprise's business. (See Cisco Pumps Branch Offices.)

"It gets us closer to the network being -- and I hate to say it because Cisco talks a lot about this -- the next business platform," says analyst Nick Lippis of Lippis Enterprises .

It's a bit of a bounceback from the lean edge model, where applications have been moving out of branch offices and into the data center. AXP is meant to create a new set of applications residing at the branch, applications infused with knowledge about the network itself.

"For example, the applications can understand what the utilization on the network is. They can see packet loss or tell if a link is down," says Joel Conover, a marketing manager in Cisco's network systems group.

These applications run on their own cards (more on that later). This keeps them from affecting the ISRs' routing performance, according to Cisco.

Possibly the most significant aspect of AXP, though, is the freedom for software companies to tap into IOS themselves.

Cisco and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) are starting to open their software after years of keeping everything locked up tight. They're not exactly rushing towards openness -- Juniper, for example, is carefully parceling out its software access. But both companies are eager to talk about the possibilities of software vendors, or even customers, building their own applications to run on Cisco or Juniper cards. (See Juniper Opens Up to Apps Developers.)

Juniper announced its Partner Solution Development Platform (PSDP) in December. That happened to be the week of Cisco's analyst conference, and executives there noted that Cisco would be doing something similar, giving developers access to its software's application programming interfaces (APIs).

As with Juniper's PSDP, Cisco's AXP won't be a free-for-all. Cisco will certify ISV applications. But it appears Cisco won't control the program as tightly as Juniper does.

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"This is similar to what the PBX companies did when they moved to unified communications and communications-enabled business processes -- to open up and expose features to developers, with XML and .NET kinds of interfaces," Lippis says. "It's going to enable the industry to have a much tighter level of integration and make us think about networking as more than a connectivity service."

A smarter branch office could be important because so many companies have shifted people and functions out of headquarters. "Those executives are looking for the same kind of performance and support out of those branch offices," Lippis says.

"In the past, if they wanted to do these applications in a branch, they'd have to use a PC," Conover says -- meaning, every branch would need a PC running the applications, adding up to a sizable expense.

In extreme cases, AXP could change an ISR into something that's no longer a router. For example, OSIsoft Inc. has developed an application to hook up service sensors in an electrical power grid and transmit their data over IP rather than leased lines.

There's an angle here for Cisco's channel partners, too, which is why AXP was launched at Cisco's Partner Summit in Honolulu. New applications would be a way for Cisco partners to stand out, rather than selling vanilla gear.

To go along with AXP, Cisco is introducing some new cards for the ISR line. The AIM-102 comes with no disk drive, for applications that don't need local storage -- or those that require secured storage elsewhere in the network. The NME 302 and 522 sport 60- or 80-GByte hard drives and target the ISR 2800 and 3800 lines.

The new modules run Linux, with Cisco's Internetwork Operating System (IOS) command line added on top. They're capable of handling multiple applications in virtualized fashion -- meaning the applications would be kept separate and ignorant of one another, a key aspect for security concerns.

The AXP is part of a flurry of branch-office announcement Cisco's making today. Among the others is the WAAS WAE-674 Wide Area Application Engine, a WAN optimization box designed to house other vendors' applications. The first example being announced is the Active Directory piece of Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows.

"Our No. 1 request from customers with the trend towards applications in the data center was to still have Windows in the branch," Conover says.

Cisco is also introducing some small ISRs with 802.11n capabilities baked in.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Craig Matsumoto

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Yes, THAT Craig Matsumoto – who used to be at Light Reading from 2002 until 2013 and then went away and did other stuff and now HE'S BACK! As Editor-in-Chief. Go Craig!!

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