Apple's deal with Cisco will lay out a red carpet for critical iOS apps

The partnership could tie iPhones more tightly to workplace networks, but there's no timeline yet

Enterprises will be able to give their most important iOS apps priority and route voice calls over their own networks through the partnership that Cisco Systems and Apple announced on Monday.

The deal reflects a recognition that mobile devices and apps are replacing traditional IT in many enterprises. About 30 percent of voice calls in business today are mobile, Cisco says. The companies want to combine mobile and traditional enterprise technologies to help people work better. But they're not saying when that vision's going to hit the streets.

Cisco and Apple can integrate mobile devices and apps more tightly with enterprise networks because each company supplies both hardware and software, according to Rowan Trollope, senior vice president of Cisco's collaboration group. "We can move beyond what just a normal app developer could do," he said.

The companies haven't said when they'll deliver on the partnership, but the results could be broad in scope. They're looking at better collaboration capabilities, closer integration between iPhones and office phones, and tighter enterprise control over mobile traffic, according to Trollope.

Apple has been pushing for enterprise credibility just as established business IT companies face the onslaught of consumer mobile devices like iPhones and iPads and the free Internet-based apps that run on them. The deal it announced with IBM last year has already produced a host of iOS apps geared toward specific industries.

The latest partnership may help Apple more than it does Cisco, according to analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis. Having the biggest supplier of network equipment show favor toward iPhones and iPads could steer enterprises toward Apple devices, particularly a business-focused version of the iPad that Greengart believes Apple may be developing.

On the other side, Apple also brings a hip factor that's in short supply at Cisco, which left the consumer market several years ago to focus on less glamorous technologies behind the scenes in enterprise and service-provider infrastructure. Apple's rock-star CEO Tim Cook joined Cisco Executive Chairman John Chambers on stage at Cisco's global sales conference in Las Vegas to announce the deal on Monday.

A key part of the companies' plan is to bring iPhone business calls onto corporate networks, where they can be tracked and logged the way calls from desk phones are now for purposes like security and regulatory compliance. This kind of integration hasn't been possible before, Trollope said. Users can better count on good connections over a private network than on a typical cellular network, too, he said, though the companies also plan to bring benefits to carrier networks.

There are at least a couple of ways Cisco says the partners can boost mobile performance for iOS devices in the workplace. For one thing, they will be able to prioritize data traffic by application. For example, on a hospital network, a doctor's videoconference with a patient on an iPad would get priority over a cat video being sent by a patient in the next room, so the videoconference would stream normally.

There will also be ways to detect and streamline demanding data flows on the network, like big software updates or content that every student in a classroom has to download. Those could involve caching the content in storage that's built into the network near the users requesting it, Trollope said. Keeping data nearby cuts down on the number of packets going through routers and switches deeper in the network.

The partnership may also make the infrastructure already in offices, like desk phones and speaker phones, more useful through Apple devices. For example, users may someday be able to make a call on a speaker phone just by tapping on a contact's number on an iPhone rather than entering the number all over again on the speaker phone.

Cisco also plans to develop experiences in its collaboration tools, such as Spark, Telepresence and WebEx, that are optimized for iOS.

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
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