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Cisco lifts the lid on female-recruitment drive

In a range of announcements at the company's annual user conference, the networking giant revealed how it's trying to attract more female workers

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Topic: Networking
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1 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNet

Cisco's European workforce is just over one-quarter female following an "incredibly successful" recruitment drive, the company has revealed.

Speaking at the company's Networkers conference last week, Cisco's president for Europe, Chris Dedicoat (pictured), explained that the company has put procedures in place to make it easier for managers to hire more female employees.

Dedicoat said Cisco has implemented a policy whereby a manager who successfully recruits a woman from outside the IT industry is given a budgetary refund on their recruitment costs as a reward for their efforts. The new starter is then placed on a special programme to equip them with the necessary IT skills and knowledge.

Dedicoat raised concerns that Europe is still not producing enough science graduates, which he said would stall the continent's productivity efforts if left unaddressed. The situation is being compounded by a shortage of women entering the industry, he said.

He was also keen to emphasise the productivity the internet can bring to society, and to challenge the perceptions that the internet stymies human interaction.

Dedicoat predicted that the second generation of the internet, revolving around social networking, would be "much more impactful" than the first generation. However, he added that businesses were hindered by a lack of productivity-enhancing Web 2.0 applications, possibly because of an absence of a proven return-on-investment, or because of scepticism.

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2 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNet

Cisco Networkers, the networking company's twice yearly showcase, was held in Barcelona last week and boldly branded "Ignite Innovation".

The slogan was a nod of recognition towards the company's 22,000 engineers and the 4,200 technology patents they have created over Cisco's 24-year history, and to the need for companies to invest in technology to become more productive.

Cisco was keen to demonstrate its technical leadership, and brought to the show a subject-matter expert for each of its key technologies.

In the exhibition, Cisco showed off its latest acceleration technology, WAAS Mobile, and its new Power-over-Ethernet-enabled switches, as well as its extensive data-centre range.

As is usually the case at vendor conferences, delegates were given the opportunity to buy branded clothing: polo shirts, body warmers and baseball caps — and even a Cisco logo-sporting teddy bear.

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3 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNet

Four-thousand notebook-bearing delegates provided high demands on the infrastructure at the venue, Barcelona's vast International Convention Centre.

A joint effort between Cisco and cabling company Systimax saw several kilometres of fibre installed as an overlay to the venue's existing infrastructure. One-hundred switches, two mobility controllers and 25 wireless access points provided the connectivity, which was almost ubiquitous across the venue.

Cisco based the wireless network on its new 802.11n-based access point, the Aironet 1250, was launched in September 2007.

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4 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNet

One of Cisco's top business partners these days is BT, and central to that partnership is TelePresence, which BT took over a large demonstration suite to promote.

TelePresence is Cisco's high-definition, top-end videoconferencing system. It has provoked a lot of interest within BT — partly, cynics say, because customers often need a network upgrade to run it. A typical TelePresence call consumes around 15Mbps of bandwidth.

One year after launch, TelePresence remains expensive, with a list price of £150,000 per site for the full three-screen product plus installation.

Sales have been limited. Just 24 units have been sold in Europe, Cisco admitted during the event, and only 16 companies globally — eight of which sell on the product in some way — have been revealed as customers.

Steve Masters, head of global convergence propositions for BT's Global Services division said: "The market has been light on delivery. It [TelePresence] has not taken off to the expectations of the market."

Simon Farr, head of unified communications and TelePresence for BT Global Services added: "From here until 2010, that is the big take-up time."

Cisco said that one primary-care trust in Scotland — which was not named — is piloting a remote doctor service using the technology. Because many of its residents live a considerable distance from their nearest GP, the trust is evaluating whether it can assess patients remotely. If successful, the TelePresence unit could be fitted with basic medical equipment.

Long term, Cisco wants to lower the price of the equipment to enable greater take-up, and it is trying to encourage the resale of TelePresence as a service.

Office provider Regis has started on that track, and is offering TelePresence calls by the hour from some of its premises.

Cisco in December said it had added support for additional protocols in the TelePresence offering so customers could videoconference with people using other vendors' equipment.

But speaking to reporters in Barcelona, Cisco's president for Europe, Chris Dedicoat, was dismissive of the prospect, saying a cross-vendor conferencing call would lead to a degradation in the quality of the call and the general experience of the technology.

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5 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNet

Cisco was also keen to explain the investment it has made in real estate in Second Life, the online virtual world.

Cisco has 400 employees regularly involved in developing and maintaining its Second Life presence, which it launched a year ago. The intention is to provide interested parties with a means to network to discuss Cisco's technologies.

Cisco's highest footfall comes when it hosts virtual events, which are timed to coincide with real-world webcasts. The intention is that those who are attending can ask questions either over the web, in the case of the webcast, or through Second Life, if they are logged on.

"This is about the individual's preference in how they want to communicate. Some people see Second Life as a higher level, allowing them to build peer-to-peer relationships," said Dannette Veale, new media program manager for Cisco, whose avatar is pictured here at the entrance to the company's property.

ZDNet.co.uk asked Veale if Cisco was winning business as a result of its Second Life investment. "We're forming relationships," she answered.

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6 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNet

This is one of the 25 access points that provided the wireless connectivity for the event. The access points — Cisco Aironet 1250s — are based on the latest wireless LAN specification, 802.11n, and Cisco is keen to showcase them.

802.11n is not yet a standard — standardisation may not happen until next year. But it has many benefits, including a theoretical throughput of 300Mbps — more than five times that of the previous WLAN technology, 802.11g — and greater range, between 50-100 percent more than 802.11g. It also utilises some new techniques for assembling multiple data streams and avoiding interference.

Even with those benefits it was never going to be easy coping with a large volume of concurrent users, which rose to 635 during one interval — but the network appeared to hold up well. The network was being analysed by the PC shown in the photo, which was running Spectrum Expert from Cognio, a company that Cisco bought in September 2007.

But although the network was based on 802.11n, most delegates were using 802.11g, or its predecessor 802.11b, meaning the data rates they were experiencing would have been far lower.

Actual data rates in WLANs are typically around 20 percent of the theoretical data rates, although that depends on how far the user is from the access points, levels of interference and how well the radio signal propogates.

Inbar Lasser-Raab, senior marketing director in Cisco's access routing and switching division, admitted that demand for 802.11n was currently low, but increasing. She justified Cisco's early release of the 802.11n access point by saying that there couldn't be demand without companies first providing the equipment.

"We are seeing interest, definitely — it's starting. But it's like chicken and egg," she said.

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7 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNet

At the show Cisco revealed that it had been developing its own proprietary standard for Power over Ethernet, which it calls ePoE, or enhanced power over ethernet (PoE).

PoE lets businesses provide electricity to a range of low-power devices using the LAN, meaning those devices don't have to be attached to the mains.Compared with the standarised version of PoE, ePoE provides an extra three watts of power, which is necessary to support 802.11n access points, Cisco argues.

But ePoE's development is new and ongoing, so Cisco's PoE stand demonstrated the standardised version of the technology in its Catalyst 2960 switch. Powered in the demo were an IP phone, IP CCTV camera and IP-enabled clock. Curiously, Cisco also attached the Aironet 1250 802.11n access point, even though it cannot run effectively using standardised PoE.

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8 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNet

Right at the front of the exhibition was Cisco's demonstration of its latest application acceleration software, WAAS Mobile.

WAAS Mobile accelerates applications to and from mobile workers in a similar way to Cisco's previous WAAS offering, which acclerates applications between companies' headquarters and branch offices.

Acceleration is carried out by reducing the number of TCP roundtrips between the server and the client, and by the use of caching technology.

Cisco set up two notebooks to demonstrate the benefits: one device had WAAS Mobile software installed and the other did not. The demonstrator made each device download a 5.19MB PowerPoint slide from Cisco's headquarters in San Jose.

Unsurprisingly, the notebook containing the software won the race, downloading the file in one second, compared with 30 seconds for the other PC.

Although a 30-fold performance gain is impressive, it is unusual for applications in a real-world scenario to be accelerated by this order of magnitude.

Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk at the event, George Kurian, vice president and general manager of Cisco's application delivery division, said a twofold performance gain might be expected for a PowerPoint presentation.

That figure is dependent upon a range of factors, including how much spare capacity and latency there is on the link, and whether the file has been seen by the user's WAAS Mobile client in the past.

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9 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNet

As well as cabling the venue, Systimax signed up as a platinum sponsor for the show, which gave it this prominent stand to show off its 10Gbps Ethernet cabling.

Systimax linked two servers with Intel 10Gbps adapters via a Cisco Catalyst 6500 switch and showed that it could run almost 10Gbps of traffic over the 100metre link, most of which is wrapped around the blue coil shown in the centre of the photo.

To make the demo tougher, it wrapped seven cables together to simulate the worst possible conditions for interference.The cabling used is augmented Category 6, or Cat 6a, UTP (unshielded twisted pair), which is designed to provide 10Gbps transmission on links of up to 100metres with as little interference as possible.

When ZDNet.co.uk visited, transmission peaked briefly at 9322Mbps, or 9.1Gbps, with most the remainder lost to packet overheads. But although the technology has been available for over three years, few customers seem to have bought it.When asked by ZDNet.co.uk, Systimax's UK managing director John McCarthy said there were a "few" customers in the finance and media verticals, but could only name one, which was Barclays.

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