Cisco has bought networking management start-up Jahi Networks for $16 million.

Jahi specialises in pulling disparate network gear (switches, routers, security products and other hardware) into a common management interface. While many enterprise network administrators write custom scripts, or even whole applications, to manage different devices, Jahi's technology lets users view network gear as "virtual devices" and configure them through one application.

The acquisition is expected to close in early 2005. Jahi's 20 employees will become part of Cisco's Network Management Technology Group.

Making different boxes on a network behave more like a unified system has been a focus for Cisco in the last few years. Cisco says such networks would be less expensive to manage for enterprise customers, and provide greater reliability and security.

This has been the focus of Cisco chief development officer Mario Mazzola, who has previously stated that Cisco is taking more of a system approach to building products, as opposed to concentrating on just feeds and speeds in network devices. "This will be necessary in the shift from [product-level] resiliency to system resiliency," he said at the company's analyst meeting late last year.

Of course, no other vendor is in a better position to do this, as Cisco owns more than two-thirds of the LAN switch and WAN router markets, according to the Dell'Oro Group. Observers say Cisco's systems approach to network gear is aimed at squeezing more revenue out of the low-growth router and switch markets by selling premium services - such as its NAC security architecture, or AVVID convergence technology - that ride on top of an end-to-end Cisco infrastructure.

And customers are buying it, analysts say. A survey in August of 100 CIOs by Goldman Sachs showed that more than 53 percent plan to increase their spending on Cisco gear in the next 12 months; 35 percent said they would spend the same, and only 12 percent said they would buy less Cisco gear.