Vendor Network Architectures�Part VII: Cisco Systems

Roll back your calendar to the 1960s, and recall the development of the ARPANET (the U.S. Government-sponsored distributed computer network), the 1970s research by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Intel, and Xerox, that led to the development of Ethernet; and further networking research that gave birth to what we now call the Internet. Much of that work was done in and around San Francisco, California, with research at nearby Stanford University factoring heavily into many of those advancements. In 1984, a group of Stanford computer scientists, who had researched connecting detached computer networks, started Cisco Systems, named for San Francisco. This firm brought some of the early router technology into mainstream business applications, and with that, the birth of distributed enterprise networks, high speed Internet connections, and many other technologies were born.

So in something of a stark contrast to many of the other players in the VoIP softswitch business, Cisco Systems, Inc. of San Jose, California is neither a veteran of the telephony world, like Avaya and Lucent Technologies, nor a fairly recent addition to the next-generation networking space, like Sonus Networks and Verso Technologies. Instead, Cisco is sort of like a lot of us—middle aged, and been around for long enough to have fought some intense battles (and perhaps with a few scars to show for it), but still young and agile enough to dodge any speeding bullets that come its way. But by anyone’s standards, Cisco is a behemoth, with over 34,000 employees worldwide, and over $24B in annual revenues; Cisco is truly one of the American success stories.

And with such a rich history in networking innovations, and a very strong presence in enterprise data networks, it should not come as a surprise that Cisco has product solutions in many voice areas. These include: residential and business voice over broadband, integrated voice and data services for small and medium sized businesses, IP services for larger enterprises, push to talk over cellular (POC), multimedia messaging, and VoIP transit and interconnect services.

Cisco calls their architecture the IP Next-Generation Network, or IP-NGN, which is focused on three key areas of voice/data convergence: an application layer,which interfaces with the customer, a service control layer, which provides the delivery, features and billing for the services provided, and a secure network layer, which creates and delivers those services. The products within this architecture support a variety of signaling protocols, including H.323, SIP, and MGCP—for both the enterprise and the service provider markets—and can operate over a number of access networks, including IP, ATM, cable, DSL, Wi-Fi, and T1/E1.

One of the key components of this architecture is the Cisco BTS 10200 softswitch, which integrates call control and services software on an open UNIX platform. The BTS 10200 is designed for carrier-grade applications, with a fully redundant architecture that eliminates single point failures, with 99.999 (“five nines”) reliability. Three elements comprise the BTS 10200: The call agent component, serves as a call management system and media gateway controller and may be replicated within the BTS 10200 system depending upon capacity and redundancy requirements. The element management system facilitates the provisioning, administration, reporting, and billing features of the softswitch. The feature server provides an open protocol interface through which new features can be added to the network, allowing products from other vendors to be integrated into the network.

With this comprehensive offering, Cisco has positioned its architecture to go beyond the company’s data packet routing origins and move into the next generation of multimedia applications. Further details on the Cisco architecture and products can be found at

Our next tutorial will continue our examination of vendors’ softswitch architectures.

Copyright Acknowledgement: © 2006 DigiNet ® Corporation, All Rights Reserved

Author’s Biography
Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet ® Corporation, a Denver-based consulting engineering firm. He is the author of many books on networking technologies, including Voice over IP Technologies, and Internet Technologies Handbook, both published by John Wiley & Sons.

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