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Inside EOS: Cisco's Big Social Networking Play

What does reggae singer Sean Paul, Grammy-nominated rock band Paramore, R&B singer Trey Songz and rock band Halestorm all have in common?

They all have media Web sites built on top of Cisco's EOS social networking platform. And they all highlight the direction in which the networking equipment giant sees its ambitious foray into social media heading.

Cisco's (NASDAQ: CSCO) EOS business launched in January and is now expanding with new capabilities and an expanded relationship with launch partner Warner Music. A new release of the platform also is set for next week.

Cisco's efforts are all part of the networking vendor's push to become a major player in the consumer marketplace.

At the heart of EOS is a hosted social platform that enables labels and content owners like Warner Music to roll out and manage individual sites, while imbuing them with popular social media features.

Dan Scheinman, senior vice president and general manager at Cisco, told InternetNews.com that the company's "platform" approach to building media sites offers important benefits instead of having each site rely on multiple, separate applications to deliver content and features.

"By having all the data in one place, the administrator can find out what's going on by site or by user, or by group of sites," Scheinman said. "Because we can see what people do across applications from blogs to photos to message boards, we're able to identity who the influencers are and we'll allow customers to be able to talk to those influencers in potentially different ways than those users that just show up and consume."

Among the enhancements that Cisco has put into EOS over the last eight months is the ability to update a site with pictures sent from a mobile phone.

Additionally, EOS now has integrated social networking capabilities with the ability to integrate Twitter. Next week, EOS is getting another update, this one focused on new analytics capabilities.

That effort is driven by an aggressive development process based on the Agile software development methodology, which favors iterative improvements.

"We release every five weeks," Scheinman said. "What we've done since launch is make the platform bigger, better, faster and stronger. The amount of traffic we've carried since launch has risen 40 times and the performance and increased dramatically."

"All of these things are items we're bringing to market based on the data that we have, because EOS is a platform," he added.

Under the hood

The actual media platform technology behind EOS is being developed with people and technology Cisco acquired in 2007. Cisco acquired privately held social-networking play Five Across in February 2007. Later that year, Cisco bought the technology assets of privately held Utah Street Networks, the operator of the social networking site Tribe.net.

"Those companies and certainly their people formed the basis of what we're doing, particularly the Tribe assets, which have proven to be very valuable to us," Scheinman said.

The EOS platform itself is a Linux-based LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) with a Java middleware component.

While Cisco maintains extensive datacenter facilities -- where it hosts its WebEx Web conferencing service -- EOS is currently hosted by Cisco partner Savvis.

"Those things [WebEx] are huge -- those things have reached scale," Scheinman said. "We needed to be able to buy services and we were able to get the services we need from Savvis, given the size that we are right now."

Though Cisco is iterating EOS rapidly, there is still much work to be done and barriers to be overcome to further grow the platform.

"There are always barriers and lots that we still have to do," Scheinman said. "We have to prove that we can reach scale and we also have to be able to deliver cost savings and the promises around value that we think we can do."