Whatever Cisco does is important because it is, well, Cisco. Last week, the company unveiled the ASR 5500 platform, which is aimed at taming the massive increase in mobile traffic.
The company blog post announcing the platform was written by Doug Webster, Cisco's vice president for global marketing and corporate communications. The beginning of his post presents the obligatory notes on how much greater the platform's capabilities are than those that came before. As usual, the numbers are impressive but lack a meaningful context to give readers a more cogent picture of how serious the problem really is and what the new technology does to alleviate it.
What Webster offers that is more accessible and valuable is an explanation of what Cisco means by the "elastic" capabilities that are a big element of the ARS 5500:
... [the] ASR 5500 can migrate resources within itself to support say, more signaling in the morning when people are doing a variety of different activities on their commute in, to more throughput when people slow down doing as much activity but begin to, say, watch more video. Ordinarily, providers would have to build out a great amount of capacity for each function-now they can support it with the "elasticity" of one platform-the ASR 5500-which can adapt to accommodate the ever changing user demand.
It seems that the platform is using some of the concepts associated with software-defined networks (SDNs). SDNs seek to make the software layer that controls the routers, switches and other elements of the network more accessible, flexible and easily controllable. Cisco is a player in the nascent drive to SDNs. It has a "spin-in" startup called Insieme - a company that it is bankrolling and will have the option of bringing in-house - working on SDNs using the emerging OpenFlow standard.
The ASR 5500 platform, apparently the first elastic packet core solution capable of integrating signaling, data, in-line services, and policy and charging control, is designed to capitalize on software architecture to optimize new purpose-built hardware.
The connection between Cisco, Insieme and OpenFlow and the ASR 5500 is not clear. The idea of controlling things so closely that assets can be mapped according to need, as Webster explains, suggests that at the very least a focus on the efficient management of networks has become at least as important as increasing their bandwidth.
Forbes offers a CNNMoney story that provides good business context around the move. The site notes that Verizon and Bharti, an Indian carrier, are the first to sign on for ARS 5500. The story provides a nice explanation of how the platform can be used - including using its segregation characteristics to charge different rates for different types of content. Juniper and Ericsson and some startups have similar products. Writer David Goldman notes that Cisco's move is key, despite the other players' moves:
But Cisco is the market's 800-pound gorilla. Like Apple, it may not be the first to market, but when it makes a move, the rest of the industry typically follows suit.
The idea of confronting the deluge of data by more efficiently handling it as well as by adding capacity - by a combination of finesse and firepower - is compelling. It's good to see Cisco on board.