Virtualization for consumers? Cisco sees it down the road

Greater focus by networking giant on end-user offerings in coming years

Cisco Systems has a reputation for building massive networks for some of the largest organizations in the world.

But Cisco also has a strong interest in supplying more and more consumer-focused technologies in the future -- even virtualization for home computers.

Some of the company's coming innovations will be shown next month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, while others won't show up until later next year or for up to three years.

Cisco will be announcing many products at CES, said Luis Avila, vice president of strategy for Cisco's Scientific Atlanta division, in a brief interview at C-Scape 2007, Cisco's annual analyst conference this week in San Jose.

However, the only product Avila will discuss in advance is a new version of its set-top box, familiar to many consumers as the hardware they rent from their cable and Internet providers to receive TV signals. The newer device will operate on the MPEG 4 standard, moving an HD-quality standard picture with about one-fourth the bandwidth of the current MPEG 2 device.

Cisco has many initiatives for consumers, including The Connected Home for gaining access to video, photos, music, data voice and home video. Earlier this year, the Scientific Atlanta division attended CES and demonstrated its Direct to Disc technology, among others.

Cisco has been building consumer-focused technologies, or planning them, for a decade.

A big portion of Cisco's plans involve using the network as a way to improve the quality and reliability of signals to all kinds of devices, including handheld computers, rather than relying on the device to do that work, said Jayshree Ullal, senior vice president of Cisco's data center, switching and security technology group.

Sometime next year, Cisco expects to announce that its Wide Area Application Services technology for WAN acceleration and quality of service can be used for mobile devices, Ullal said in a brief interview.

Such WAAS technology for the mobile world could apply to both enterprises that deploy laptops and other mobile devices, but also to service providers that offer network services to consumers, Cisco officials said.

In addition, Ullal said, Cisco has plans within the next 36 months to develop virtualization for consumer desktops and set tops. Virtualization is a major part of the Data Center 3.0 initiative that Cisco unveiled in July at its Networkers conference, Ullal explained, but it can be expanded throughout the network for business users and consumers as well.

For consumers, virtualization could mean that a service provider would host the virtualization capability, giving the end user the ability to run a thin client instead of a full PC, with storage and even computing functions undertaken at the hosting facility.

With such virtualization, not only would actual desktops and set top boxes be physically smaller, but they could rely on the potentially enormous resources of the host's data center and its links to partner's data centers throughout the world, analysts said.

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Matt Hamblen

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