Cisco launches Second Life-like site for resellers, developers

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Cisco launched a virtual online 3-D world based on a trade-show motif today to enable its 40,000 global channel partners to meet and exchange information with application providers and device manufacturers.

While the new Cisco Industry Solutions Partner Network (ISPN) is loosely based on the animated look and feel of Second Life and related sites, channel partners don't need to pick an avatar, download a desktop application or trade in Linden Dollars, a Cisco spokeswoman said.

In fact, the company has run industry events for several months for resellers on the well-known Second Life site in a simulation called Bandwidth Amphitheater, where each participant had to create and name an avatar to attend. However, Cisco's new ISPN will give it control of the virtual world and will encourage interactions more easily, said Andrew Sage, senior director of worldwide channel marketing.

The new Cisco site will be accessible through Cisco's Web site, but it is not open to the public. The ISPN was designed and housed on servers owned by Unisfair Inc. in Menlo Park, Calif., Sage said. Visitors to ISPN will be able to click on buttons to navigate as they move through trade show halls and booths, a meeting hall and a lounge, along with various "shadow people," without the need to pick attire or facial characteristics as in Second Life. However, they will be able to chat with one another in ISPN to compare technologies. In coming weeks, Cisco plans to allow voice communication between ISPN participants through WebEx and Skype, he said.

A big difference between the two sites, at least for Sage, is that the ISPN site won't allow users to "fly" as in Second Life, he said. "About six months ago, we hosted an event in Second Life for 40 or so channel partners, and in the midst of making a presentation, I accidentally hit the 'fly' button and flew away right in front of everybody. It took a while to navigate back. So, no, we didn't put in a fly button in our site."

There won't be any "Chambers" dollars, either, named after CEO John Chambers, or buttons that allow an avatar to disrobe in one click, he confirmed. Users won't be required to load an application onto their desktops as in Second Life, either, Sage said.

It took Cisco about three months to develop the site with Unisfair with a "relatively modest start-up cost," but Cisco envisioned using the site for many other purposes and provided a "significant" infrastructure to support it, Sage said. He didn't say what other purposes it might serve, however.

The initial purpose of ISPN is to "introduce channel partners to the whole world of application developers," Sage said, so that a channel partner could investigate new applications or even those under development to be able to sell them with more knowledge to customers. About 30 independent software vendors are already on the site, including Inc.; QM Group Ltd., a queue management provider in the U.K.; and Nomadix, an access gateway provider in Newbury Park, Calif.

Relying on the concept of Second Life makes sense for serious business needs, Sage added. "It's about the ability to collaborate, and having avatars walking around is fun," he acknowledged. "To be honest, it's more engaging than other online methods."

In a statement, Cisco said the ISPN will also support channel partners with industry training and Web 2.0 collaboration tools. Product discounts are already offered to channel partners when they collaborate with developers on new software applications through Cisco's Solution Incentive Program, and the company hopes the new ISPN will expand on that initiative, a spokeswoman said.

Noting that such collaboration is important to providing new applications to customers, she said that Digitel Corp., a Cisco channel partner, and Cistera Networks Inc., an application services provider, collaborated in the real world to provide an event alert and notification system for the city of Opelika, Ala. "That's the kind of thing we're hoping to promote with ISPN," she said.

Learn more about this topic

Read Cisco Subnet's Channelguy's take on ISPN

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Businesses experimenting with virtual worlds

This story, "Cisco launches Second Life-like site for resellers, developers" was originally published by Computerworld.

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