Networks '97: Cisco buys voice, firewall firms

Cisco Systems caused the buzz on the first morning of yesterday's Networks '97 show in Birmingham when it announced two acquisitions that give it a bigger say in the voice and firewall spaces.

First, Cisco said it would purchase Ardent Communications, a California startup specialising in voice over LAN, Frame Relay and ATM networks. The company is led by Wu Fu Chen, a founder of Cascade. Cisco will pay about $156 million in stock for the one-year old company in which it previously had a minority investment.

James Richardson, European president and senior VP for Cisco, said the technology will complement Cisco's IOS software, enabling networks capable of handling voice, video and data. The Ardent technology is currently in beta form and will ship in the next two to three months. Pricing will be in the $4-5,000 range for branch offices.

"It's a very, very robust platform based on voice integration over frame, multiplex and IP networks and that's going to be a massive market for us and our partners," Richardson said. "The driving application is integrated voice networking using a single network fabric end to end. It is a tremendous business proposition for an organisation that has PABXs. Typically 60-80 per cent of the voice traffic in those companies is internal so that's a huge saving straight away. It dovetails beautifully with IOS; you can have the same operating environment with voice over the same network. It will be a tremendous payback for our customers. Even though deregulation is here, voice calls still cost up to ten times more in Europe than in the US. Anyone in the services industry with a big retail network will see the biggest advantages. Think of big banks, big insurance agencies."

Richardson said one of the greatest strengths of the Ardent technology was compression: two compressed voice channels can be implemented in just 8Kb or 12Kb.

Later in the day, Cisco announced plans to buy Global Internet Software Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of California-based Global Internet. The deal, worth about $40 million, gives Cisco access to Windows NT Centri Security Manager firewall technology.

Peter Simkin, chief technical officer of FTP Software, said the deal made sense. "The functionality in firewalls these days can't be outside the network. It has to be withing network management environments. It's a logical move for firewall vendors to get closer to router and network management companies. The future for standalone firewalls is very fragile."