Cisco takes first step to revamp its software model

Says use of license keys will simplify IOS deployments on routers, switches

Cisco Systems Inc. yesterday announced what it said is a simplified software distribution model for its routers and switches, as well a new software tool designed to help users more easily manage large-scale networks.

The company said it now plans to ship a full-blown version of its Internetworking Operating System software with all new routers and switches. Users then will activate specific feature packages via software license keys.

The new software distribution model and licensing controls will make it easier for managers of large networks to deploy IOS and add new software features, Cisco said, adding that network administrators will also be able to get a better handle on the versions of the software that are running across various devices.

The change is the first step in a long-term plan to transform how IOS is sold and distributed, as well as how the code itself works. Cisco CEO John Chambers first discussed the emerging new software strategy last June, saying at the Cisco Networkers 2006 user conference that the company needed to modify its practice of bundling software with its networking devices.

Beginning sometime in the current quarter, all new Cisco routers and switches will ship with a kitchen-sink version of IOS that includes every feature set and release train.

"This is definitely a change in how we've done this in the past," said Marie Hattar, Cisco's senior director of routing and switching. "This makes customers' IOS image selection, and ongoing maintenance, much easier."

Cisco said that in the near future, users will be able to activate three feature-set levels: IP Base, which is currently the default IOS image, plus separate selections called IP Services and Advanced IP Services.

The new method for adding features will be easier for network administrators "instead of having to download the software, qualify it and load it into the network," Hattar said. She added that there will be no changes to how Cisco prices IOS at this time.

The new software tool, called Cisco License Manager, can be used to automate license keys across devices in large networks, Cisco said The tool also can conduct software audits on routers and switches, showing what IOS versions and features are running on a network.

Until now, adding features to routers has often resulted in network downtime and exacted high costs in IT staff time because of the need to download and install software on the equipment, said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc. in Boston.

Cisco's new method "makes the upgrade path much simpler," he said. "No more having to download new versions, or running multiple versions. All the code is just there."

Kerravala added that Cisco License Manager could help network managers gain a better understanding of their IOS environments. "Customers can run tens, if not hundreds, of versions of IOS on a network, which creates a lot of problems" in terms of software upgrades and patches, he said. "The licensing tool could simplify that whole process."

Jeff Levy, manager of network and telecommunications services at ADC Telecommunications Inc. in Eden Prairie, Minn., said Cisco's new software distribution approach could help cut down on the amount of hands-on contact involved in router maintenance.

ADC, a maker of telecommunications cables and hardware, has a network with about 100 Cisco routers located at as many remote sites, and Levy said he keeps a close eye on what IOS versions and features are deployed. The ability to target specific features when turning on IOS could be a benefit, he added. "You get extra stuff you probably don't use, which would be nice to turn off" or simply not activate, Levy said.

This story, "Cisco takes first step to revamp its software model" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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