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Cisco's Way of Four

5:20 PM -- There's a chart from Padmasree Warrior's keynote last week at Cisco Live! that might be obvious, but it stuck with me anyway.

It repeated a theme that's been a favorite of CEO John Chambers for years, that of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) expanding its role with customers. Originally a product vendor, Cisco now wants to be instrumental in doing more: driving new business models and teaching companies to rebuild their operations around the network. (See Cisco CEO Talks $10B Markets and Cisco Rolls Out Roadmaps.)

That creates what Warrior described as four levels of Cisco business, each with a wider sphere of influence: products, systems, solutions, and architectures.

The "architecture" businesses seem to consist of grand, vague themes -- collaboration and video being two examples. That's "video" in a wide sense, ranging from dumb flip-phone videos to high-density, high-definition multicasts. Warrior didn't give many more specifics about what Cisco might be planning here, but she did note that Cisco's "medianet" -- its new term for the media-aware network -- is the underlying structure being developed for it. (See Cisco's Video Transformation and Cisco Banks on Video Growth.)

The "solution" tier refers to a combining of products and services, maybe with help from partner companies. The massively networked stadiums for the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees venues would be examples of this, she said, combining digital signage, IP telephony, videoconferencing, security, and wireless networks. (See IPTV Scores at Cowboys Stadium.)

"Systems," in this context, refers not to routers and switches but to prefabricated combinations of equipment. An example would be the glamorously named Optimized Pod Systems, a data center bundle centered on the Nexus switch.

And "products" are, you know, products.

Yes, it's all part of the vague realm of marketing and philosophy that big companies enjoy making PowerPoint slides for. But I haven't heard Cisco dissect these tiers of business so specifically. "Architecture" is the one to watch, the one that's likely to remake Cisco into whatever kind of consulting or services company it eventually morphs into. I'm not sure even Cisco knows what to expect there.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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