Padmasree Warrior

The revolution will be televised — online

Cisco CTO says video will play a big part in the next phase of the Internet

As chief technology officer of Cisco Systems, Padmasree Warrior combines her own experience with user feedback to help direct the company’s technology strategy. As such, she describes her role as “outward-facing and future-focused.” Last fall, Warrior sat down with GCN to talk about the evolution of technologies such as collaboration, networking, social media, video and the concept of a media experience platform.

GCN: What are some of the challenges you see going forward with regard to the future of information technology in the government sector?

WARRIOR: This is a time of significant opportunities coupled with significant barriers and economic challenges.

The first is there is a continued demand for openness and transparency. I think, more than ever, people definitely are looking for and finding new ways to engage and participate in the government and be part of the government systems, have access to a lot of agencies and information. At the same time, we need to really be worried about security and privacy. So how do you balance those two?

Additionally, there is now a need to get new talent into the government IT space to fix some of these technical challenges that we face. [However], we are all under budget pressures, so we can’t just throw money at trying to find the talent. That’s the second balancing act we have to do.

And the third balancing act: There is obviously a lot of pressure on us to control costs by streamlining operations internally within each agency, and at the same time, agencies are being asked to figure out how they can share information with other agencies. This interagency collaboration and sharing of infrastructure and data is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s almost like a must-have.

And then the last area is there’s a continued push for new services without adding additional infrastructure. So how do we enable that to happen?

How will the Internet evolve in the future?

One of the things that we talk about at Cisco is the first phase of the Internet and second phase of the Internet.

We were very focused on data transport over the last 10 years. I know all of us, including in the networking [community], were really all about efficient ways to move data around. And e-mail was probably the killer app. It was really a messaging platform. And we didn’t really worry back then as an industry about sustainability issues of green IT or the environment; we really were focused on optimizing price-performance ratio.

And then we had applications that were very vertically integrated with the infrastructure, which meant, as IT leaders, people didn’t have the capability to allocate resources flexibly or provide capabilities on demand.

So the next phase of the Internet going forward in the next 10 years, we are going to see a shift from being only about data transport to really becoming a media experience engine. So [Cisco] Telepresence [videoconferencing] is one example of how we think, actually, video will be the killer app in the next phase of the Internet.

Now we have to optimize the network to enable the Internet to become a platform for media experience. So we are developing things like Cisco Medianet, which puts a lot of intelligence in the network to monitor the traffic in real time and then adjust the video characteristics to render it based on the size of the end device. So I think we’re going to see more and more the Internet becoming a media experience platform.

For this media experience platform, are the basic protocols TCP/IP and the like? Are they sufficient for that sort of data, or is there more work that needs to be done at the standards level?

We have to do some more work in the standards levels. I think there would have to be new capabilities developed in the network that we will have to do over time to standardize it.

Such as?

Such as things to do with various forms of video and how you analyze the characteristics of the video. How do you do the real-time traffic monitoring? Those kinds of things.

I think at a high level, TCP/IP, HTTP, those types of formats will probably be the mainstay and with additional components added to it.

So that’s the first shift we’ll see. The second shift we will see is it actually becoming more of a collaboration platform. Some of the things that we’re working on at Cisco are how [to] adopt or take the social networking concepts that exist in the consumer Web and make them more robust and useful for the enterprise and for different agencies to use.

We are also extending and integrating video, voice and data in the WebEx with Telepresence and with our unified communications to deliver this collaboration platform for the enterprise, initially to have intracompany and then eventually intercompany collaboration.

To what extent is Cisco moving into the user experience and to what extent are you setting up the technologies to support other companies to do so?

We definitely recognize the need to integrate other technologies into our platform, especially if you’re talking about intercompany collaboration. Every enterprise will have different applications in the enterprise space, and there are a bunch of enterprise applications that we recognize that obviously we are not going to develop. And what we want to develop is a platform where we can integrate many of these applications.

We want to use video as a central point in our collaboration strategy and enable the integration with other solutions from some of our partners and other companies that people might have the need for.

What is the role of virtualization and cloud computing in this paradigm?

We see virtualization emerging as a disrupter mainly because it allows you to separate the logical functions from the physical infrastructure, so it gives you more flexibility.

One of the things we are doing is looking at how we can make the data center architecture more efficient and much more virtualized. We’ve launched a new architecture that we call Unified Computing Systems (UCS), which essentially is a way to virtualize the data center and bring together computer storage, network and virtualization onto a single preintegrated architecture so there’s a single point of management for all of these resources.

I think, eventually, we see that as a foundation leading to cloud computing. So when we think of cloud computing, our focus is how to help our customers build secure clouds. And we think there will always be a hybrid model where some applications will reside on-premise in customer’s data centers.

Many of our customers, especially government customers, are reluctant to give up their information into a public cloud because it’s either classified information or information they need to protect. So in those cases, we’re exploring the possibility of helping them build their own private clouds that are secure.

Even in the commercial space, several of our enterprise customers will want to have a combination of both, certain things on the premises and certain things coming from the cloud. So we’re using UCS and our virtualized data center as a way to get into the cloud. So that’s the next major transformation we see.

And the last one is very interesting. We call it Smart+Connected Communities. And that has to deal with sustainability and how we use IP networks and Internet concepts to transform new verticals like health care, like the smart grid with energy, and smart buildings — how can we make buildings much more energy-efficient by putting in sensors and using those IP devices all connected onto a network and monitoring how much power gets consumed.

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