Chambers unfazed at disrupted speech

It takes more than a labor protest and a demonstration glitch to stop Cisco's chief from selling his vision

Cisco Systems believes networking among doctors as well as among sensors in the field can help prevent pandemics, Chairman and CEO John Chambers said in a keynote address at the company's annual Cisco Live customer conference that was briefly disrupted by a protest and a technical glitch.

Chambers and Chief Demonstration Officer Jim Grubb showed off a camera from FLIR Thermal Infrared Camera Systems that can measure people's body temperatures. If these cameras were installed at tollbooths to examine drivers, and networked with other such sensors, they could build a picture of how many people in an area had fevers that might indicate a disease such as the flu, he said.

At the same time, hospitals could share up-to-date statistics about admissions of patients with certain symptoms, and health professionals could share impressions among themselves. Chambers and Grubb showed a social-networking site similar to Facebook or Twitter, but including brief video messages recorded on Cisco Flip Video cameras and uploaded. An emergency message from a governor could be recorded on Cisco's TelePresence high-definition videoconferencing system and adapted within the network using Cisco's MediaNet technology for playing on citizens' phones.

Such tools might help to stem a pandemic like the H1N1 outbreak that killed more than 100 people and crippled business and tourism in Mexico earlier this year, according to Chambers. He hinted that Cisco will bring some of these capabilities to Mexico in the coming months. Mexico is believed to be the origin of the H1N1 pandemic, which so far has spread to four other continents and is responsible for more than 300 deaths, according to global health organizations.

The demonstration stood out not so much because of its futuristic predictions as the fact that it almost had to be cancelled. In a rare onstage flub for Cisco, one of the monitors to be used in the demonstration was dark and couldn't be restarted. After technicians tinkered for several minutes, Chambers was about to write it off and move on, but finally the image was shifted to a large overhead screen.

Earlier, the packed session had been briefly disrupted by demonstrators wearing T-shirts from Service Employees International Union Local 1877. They shouted slogans as Chambers took the stage, but quickly were escorted out of the meeting room at the Moscone Convention Center. The union was protesting what they said have been 75 layoffs of janitors at Cisco's San Jose headquarters. The union says the janitors were laid off by ABM Janitorial Services, a contractor hired by Cisco, and is calling on Cisco to tell ABM to reinstate the workers.

The response from the stage was classic Chambers: "You may not agree with everything I say, but the one thing you will find is that Cisco is proud of what we do in business, what we do in our customers, how we treat people -- whether it's our 13,000 vendors, our 4,600 contractors, or how we are (one of) the top 10 places to work in every part of the world," he said, raising his voice slightly to be heard over the chanting.

In a prepared statement about the protest, Cisco said it has rapidly reduced its cost structure as a result of the recession. "We respect and support the rights of our vendors' employees to fair treatment and to voice their concerns," the statement said.

It might have been a rocky morning for anyone but the unflappable Chambers, who roamed among the audience throughout a 90-minute speech that covered mostly familiar ground, promoting the power of networking to increase productivity, cut costs and help companies move quickly. He repeated Cisco's mantra that getting the maximum benefit of networking requires an end-to-end architecture rather than just a series of standalone products.

One longtime Cisco customer left the keynote with an upbeat perspective. David Friedhoff, a computer scientist at a U.S. government agency, said it's not always possible to use Cisco from end to end, both because of bidding procedures and other factors. But Cisco has gotten better at making its gear work with other vendors' products in recent years, Friedhoff said.

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service

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