Cisco wades into apps

Cisco has announced its application oriented networking (AON) strategy with a raft of new products. The move is a bid to consolidate the vendor’s leading position and open up new markets in the face of slowing core business.

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By  Simon Duddy Published  June 21, 2005

Cisco has announced its application oriented networking (AON) strategy with a raft of new products. The move is a bid to consolidate the vendor’s leading position and open up new markets in the face of slowing core business. The firm made the announcement at today’s Networkers conference in Las Vegas. Cisco says the releases are the first network embedded systems with intelligent application message routing and represent a new category of products. The networking giant is releasing two types of blade, one for its integrated services router (ISR) family and the other for its Catalyst 6500 core switch. Both product types have the same functionality, but the switch has higher performance and also includes hardware for XML and SSL processing. The products will initially be available only to select ‘lighthouse’ customers in the USA and EMEA and will be made generally availabile in late 2005. “The products are able to look beyond the packet level and understand the application message,” says William Ruh, senior director for AON at Cisco. “They can tell if a message contains a purchase order or a web form, and can assign policies accordingly. End users will be able to, for example, create one policy for purchase orders over US$10,000 and one policy for orders under US$10,000,” he explains. Cisco says the boxes can apply business, technology and security policies, be used to convert Html into SQL and can authenticate and encrypt and de-crypt messages. The significance of the announcement is that it will provide integration at the application message level and make it is easier for middleware to inter-operate. The network has traditionally been the domain of packet interactions, while application messages were dealt with on the server. Cisco is taking these server-based functions and putting them on the network. The vendor has the backing of middleware and applications heavyweights IBM, SAP and Tibco, who are looking for solutions to make their applications less cumbersome over distributed computer networks. The move could ultimately bring Cisco into conflict with software and server players as more of the intelligence traditionally housed in these platforms becomes possible on the network. Extensible Markup Language (XML) and radio frequency identification (RFID) will play roles in Cisco’s AON strategy. Both protocols are proving to be of increasing importance to network professionals as traffic into the enterprise increases. The new products can recognise and manage XML and RFID messages. “We see XML as the future of how data will be marked up. It’s a core part of the AON offering. XML will complement internet protocol (IP), but XML will be very popular, it’s the way most future applications will structure data,” says Ruh. As the AON platform is extensible it can be used to support a wide range of applications. The technology has a graphical user interface (GUI) that can be used to add new applications, with the end user having the ability to add his proprietary protocols, plus input using CC++ and Java script. “This gives the enterprise the ability to create solutions to remedy problems, whether they revolve around RFID or any other protocol,” says Ruh. Cisco is also targeting financial transactions such as FIX and SWIFT and business activity monitoring. In terms of competition, Cisco faces a range of start-ups offering XML processing but Cisco says its offering stands out as it is the only vendor to offer XML processing plus wider infrastructure. Cisco also says its deployment platform is easier than that of competitors, which require several products working in conjunction to achieve the same result. Cisco offers a single unit, which it claims is easy to manage. The announcement comes in the wake of Juniper’s recent acquisitions of Redline and Peribit and the establishment of its Applications Products Group. The move also follows software player Citrix buying traffic optimisation firm NetScaler. Although the moves are in broadly the same area, Ruh says that Cisco’s strategy goes further, with deeper inspection possible on the AON platform than the traffic processing of other vendors’ offerings. “AON is a unique product in the network. Other players aren’t dealing with the content of the applications, they are just looking at the packet level,” he explains. The AON initiative is likely to prove central to Cisco’s fortunes. The vendor’s core business of switches and routers is likely to slow in the coming years, yet Cisco has set itself a tough growth target, seeking to double its business by 2009. “We are a US$25billion business now and we want to be a US$50billion business by 2009 and that means a lot of things have to happen,” says Mark de Simone, the vice president for Cisco Europe, Middle East & Africa. The AON initiative will have to be very successful if the vendor is to achieve its target.

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