The top 10 Cisco stories of 2008

Video optimization, Yankee Stadium project and a China issue among Cisco’s headline grabbers

2008 was a huge year for Cisco in terms of product transitions, strategic initiatives and business imperatives against the backdrop of a global economic recession. The following is a lineup of key events for the company as it closes out one of the most eventful years in its history.

10. Cisco shutting down between the holidays. This is how bad it is: One of the most envied companies in high-tech -- one that many kiddingly say prints its own money -- closes for a week to save costs. Cisco's decision not only reflects how brittle things are but also what to expect heading into 2009. The decision marks the first time in the company's history that it will shut down to save costs -- Cisco and every other company in The Valley would traditionally close the week between Christmas and New Year's in the 1980s.

9. Cisco to video-optimize networks. Cisco unveils a blade to process video traffic by acting as a translator between different formats, among other tasks. The Media Experience Engine 3000 transcodes a single source of content so that it is playable on any device, such as an IPTV, digital sign, PC or mobile. It also ushers in Cisco's "medianet" strategy to construct business networks from these and other blades optimized for video.

8. Cisco promises wireless, video extravaganza at the new Yankee Stadium. Cisco wins a showcase account with the New York Yankees and will build an "immersive" video network of 1,100 high-definition screens in the new stadium. The monitors will provide various views, angles and information on the game -- before, during and after. Cisco says it will be the most technologically advanced stadium in the country, ultimately allowing fans with mobile devices to view the game from different angles around the stadium, launch instant replays, access statistics specific to the game situation, and interact with other fans in a community. So much for the game.

7. Procter & Gamble cites progress, challenges with Cisco TelePresence. Consumer products giant P&G is looking to become the most collaborative company in the world. Life-size, virtual presence is one way to achieve that, P&G believes. The company provides some insights, good and bad, into technology Cisco believes will change not only the business experience, but the human one as well.

6. Cisco denies aiding Chinese censorship. The Global Internet Freedom Consortium, a human rights group, alleged that Cisco offered to teach Chinese authorities how to use its equipment to censor the Internet. As evidence, the group referred to a 2002 PowerPoint document written by a Cisco engineer that refers to suppression of the Falun Gong religious group and "other hostiles." Cisco said the internal document did not reflect the company's views.

5. Is Cisco cheating a reseller? Cisco was ordered to pay $6 million in damages to a California reseller that claimed the company snatched a $5 million opportunity away from it and turned it over to AT&T. The reseller, Infra-Comm of San Juan Capistrano, sued Cisco for breach of an exclusivity promise and improperly taking an IP telephony deal from it. The California Superior Court found Cisco in violation of its reseller agreement and deal registration agreement.

4. Cisco overhauls edge routers after five years, $250 million. Cisco unveiled its next-generation enterprise edge router, the ASR 1000. The system is expected to succeed Cisco's 7200, 7300 and perhaps 10000 series systems, and is the second major product line refreshment this year (the Nexus data center switches being the first). The ASR 1000 introduces a new operating system -- IOS-XE -- and is powered by a superfast processor called QuantumFlow that supports services in software rather than hardware. Customers say they can use the new router to consolidate multiple 7200s and 7300s into a single ASR 1000 chassis.

3. Cisco's ASR 9000: All hat, no cattle? Cisco announces plans to offer a 400Gbps per slot Ethernet edge router for service providers, an eventual successor to the 7600 line; but the company is curiously tight-lipped on how and when that capability will be achieved. Cisco did not disclose details on the routing engines or interface modules for the router -- including port densities -- and would not discuss whether the QuantumFlow packet processing silicon for the system was internally developed or acquired from a supplier. QuantumFlow is used in the ASR 1000 router for the enterprise edge, but competitors and other sources say Cisco is using merchant silicon in the ASR 9000 that's merely been branded QuantumFlow.

2. Cisco departure latest sign of transformation. Data center chief Jayshree Ullal departs, the third high-ranking executive to leave the company in 15 months. Losing Mike Volpi, Charlie Giancarlo and Ullal shows that Cisco's transformation from a pure networking player to an overall IT vendor is forcing some leaders to make career-altering decisions, analysts say. Indeed, Ullal's departure ends an era of leadership founded in strategic LAN switching acquisitions in the early 1990s -- she came to Cisco with 1993's acquisition of Crescendo Communications.

1. Cisco planning significant data center assault. More details leak on Cisco's plan to unveil in 2009 an internally developed blade server systems for data centers, setting the company up for a direct assault on the stronghold of longtime partners IBM and HP. Code-named "California," the system will include Intel-based x86 processors and a Linux operating system, and integrate switching technology from Cisco's Nexus products. Cisco did not confirm or deny "California," but did discuss its rationale for potentially entering adjacent markets occupied for decades by partners.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.