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Cisco Pushes Beyond Traditional Roots To Challenge HP, IBM

Jeffrey Burt is a senior editor for eWEEK and contributor to TechWeekEurope

Cisco chief John Chambers has pointed to new sectors it will either enter or grow in, bringing it into even greater competition with the likes of HP and IBM

Cisco Systems is using the platform of its Cisco Live show in San Francisco to push its aggressive expansion into spaces beyond its traditional networking business.

During his keynote speech yesterday, Cisco chief executive John Chambers talked about the 30 new “market adjacencies” that the company is continuing to grow into, from video and sports and entertainment to digital signatures, Smart Grid, and the virtual data centre, which includes Cisco’s new Unified Computing System (UCS).

Cisco also plans to touch on all business sectors, from health care to education, and to fuel how business is done in the future, from telecommuting to online collaboration.

The company will continue to build on its core networking business, Chambers said, but the global recession is helping to fuel a transition in business into such areas as virtualisation, online collaboration and video, all of which can be made use of to help businesses work better and more efficiently. And Cisco wants to be in on that, he said.

Such moves are bound to bring Cisco into tighter competition with other vendors, including many that also are valuable partners. That happened in March, when Cisco rolled out its UCS strategy, which includes Cisco-branded blade servers, bringing it into direct competition with such vendors as HP and IBM, two companies that buy billions of dollars’ worth of Cisco networking technology every year.

However, Chambers said he doesn’t look at the competition, but rather at whether what Cisco is offering can help businesses.

Other Cisco officials have recently talked about areas into which the company will grow. In a briefing on Monday, Cisco chief technology officer Padmasree Warrior outlined how it will expand its reach in the burgeoning cloud computing realm. Warrior pointed to Cisco’s UCS and virtualisation as the key drivers for the new virtualised data centre, and said Cisco will sell the various infrastructure pieces that businesses will need for cloud computing. The company also will offer software as a service (SaaS), as it does already with its WebEx collaboration technology, she said.

However, Warrior said Cisco would not try to take on Amazon.com or Google by offering its own public cloud infrastructure.

In addition, in a briefing yesterday, Doug Dennerline, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Collaboration Software Group, reportedly said the company – as Google and others already have – may offer software online that would rival Microsoft’s Office applications and would be accessed via Cisco’s WebEx technology.

Such comments backed up what Chambers said during his keynote. As he has in prior speeches this year, Chambers pointed to the Flip video camera as a key communications tool. Cisco bought Pure Digital, the maker of the Flip, earlier in 2009.

“Video is the communication vehicle that changes how business will be done,” he said.

Online collaboration will continue growing, Chambers said. Cisco has migrated many of its own corporate meetings – which in the past would have meant physically bringing people from all over the world to a central location – into the online world through telepresence, saving millions of dollars in expenses and boosting productivity, he said.

Cisco also has done the same thing with launches of new products and, as evidenced by its user conference this week, with how it reaches out to customers and the media on other levels.

“It hasn’t just changed how we communicate as a company, but how we work, how we learn,” Chambers said.

News coming out of Cisco continues to illustrate how the company is using its combined product portfolio to expand its reach. For example, at a US Educational Computing Conference in Washington on Monday, Cisco officials outlined ways that its online collaboration, networking, security, wireless and media systems offerings can be used by school systems to increase efficiency, save money, improve security and teach students about the global economy.