Cisco Gets Social at CES

While networking giant Cisco is well known in the enterprise and carrier networking spaces, it is using the 2009 Consumer Electronics Shows (CES) in Las Vegas to launch a number of new initiatives aimed at the home.

Chief among those is out a white-label social networking software platform, called EOS, designed for other companies to use in creating their own consumer-facing social sites.

Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) is offering EOS as a Software as a Service (SaaS)-based solution that relies on the company’s networking infrastructure to deliver social media content like blogs, message boards, video and audio content. Cisco said that Warner Music is already a customer of the service.

The new offering signals that interest remains white-hot among hardware and software players in capitalizing on the booming trend of social networking. As a result, Cisco isn’t the only technology vendor making noise about its efforts in the space at CES: Sony is also unveiling its own, as-yet-unnamed social networking platform during the show.

At CES, Cisco also announced a new program for enabling consumer electronics manufacturers to use the Home Network Administration Protocol (HNAP) in their devices. Cisco doesn’t just have its eye on helping other vendors target the home audience, however: The company also talked up a new media hub and a wireless audio solution under its Linksys brand, which aim to make it easier to consume digital media formats in the home.

The efforts all build on activities ongoing at Cisco for at least the past five years. The company first dived into the consumer market in earnest through its 2003 acquisition of home networking vendor Linksys.

“We’re really focused on expanding that consumer strategy,” Ned Hooper, senior vice president of Cisco’s consumer group, said in a YouTube video detailing the new initiatives.

Hooper described Cisco’s vision of consumers moving “from simply a connected home environment, where people are sharing broadband connection for e-mail or Web usage, to a multimedia-enabled home, where truly all of the media and entertainment that consumers are experiencing is coming over the Internet and through a connected experience.”

Cisco did not respond to requests for additional comment from by press time. A press conference with Cisco CEO John Chambers is scheduled for later today.

Socializing with Cisco

Cisco has been signaling its interest in a social networking offering for some time, with the acquisition of privately held social-networking Five Across in February 2007. Also in 2007, Cisco acquired the technology assets of privately held Utah Street Networks, the operator of the social networking site

Cisco’s approach to social networking is built using what its product documentation refers to as open IP standards and APIs. The core front-end application stack for EOS is a LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) while the back end is based on a Java application stack.

Cisco is no stranger to Linux and is among the top contributors to the Linux kernel. Linux developers are also now vying for $100,000 of Cisco’s cash as part of developer contest for innovative Linux applications.

Helping home networking with HNAP

While EOS is a service that consumers will be able to access with their home networks, Cisco also said it wants to improve the overall home networking experience itself.

That effort hinges on HNAP, a SOAP-based protocol that is intended to simplify networked device discovery and management.

Through the newly created Cisco Device Connections Program, Cisco said it would begin licensing HNAP to consumer device manufacturers. The Program will provide certification and assurance that devices are compliant with HNAP, it said.

In addition to a press conference later today, Cisco CEO John Chambers is slated to deliver a keynote presentation at CES on Friday. During the talk, Chambers will be joined by Intel Chairman Craig Barrett in a discussion that about the role that technology plays in the economic growth of emerging markets.

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