Cisco is to open up its long-established IOS routing software to third-party developers, according to company officials.

Having just formed its first dedicated software group, Cisco officials are now tinkering with making IOS more than just a platform for Cisco-developed services in the network. To that end, Cisco plans to "componentise" IOS - developing only one implementation of a specific function instead of several, depending on the image - dynamically link IOS services and move the software onto a Unix-based kernel, according to Alan Baratz, Cisco senior vice president of the Network Software and Systems Technology Group.

Cisco then plans to open up interfaces on IOS to allow third-party applications to access IOS services, Baratz said."We are in the process of trying to open up IOS interfaces and make them available to third-party developers," Baratz said. He did not provide a timeframe for doing so.

Cisco's plan is similar to what Juniper announced for its JUNOS operating system operating system earlier this week. Juniper announced a Partner Solution Development Platform (PSDP) allowing customers and partners to develop specialised applications on its JUNOS operating system.

The PSDP includes a software development kit with "intelligent and secure" interfaces to Juniper's JUNOS routing and service functions.

Cisco's formation of the Software Group within its Cisco Development Organization was arguably the most significant move associated with last week's reorganization of CDO. All Cisco software development operations - IOS, Unified Communications, Collaboration and Network Management - now fall under one orchestrator, Senior Vice President Don Proctor.

The move was made to coordinate product development and inject a common set of services across all of Cisco's software assets, company officials said. Another catalyst was Cisco's intention to drive collaboration as a business process, and the network infrastructure as the platform for all IT services.

"We're looking at more significant software transitions over the next several years than we've seen in this industry," Proctor said, referring to the emergence of collaboration, Web 2.0 and video as key business processes going forward. "We'd like to say Cisco has distinguished itself as a software company" five years from now.