Application invasion

Cisco has announced its application oriented networking (AON) strategy in a bid to open up new markets in the face of slowing core business.

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By  Simon Duddy Published  July 12, 2005

|~|Bill-Ruh-cisco_m.jpg|~|“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.” - William Ruh, senior director for AON at Cisco.|~|Cisco used the Networkers conference in Las Vegas last month to introduce what it says is a first for the networking world – application aware switch and router products. 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 available in late 2005. The AON initiative is likely to prove central to Cisco’s fortunes. The vendor’s core business of non application-aware 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. Cisco says the products are able to look beyond the packet level and understand the application message. The products are capable of ascertaining if a message is 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. Cisco says the boxes can apply business, technology and security policies, be used to convert Html into SQL and can carry out authentication and encryption. Extensible Markup Language (XML) and radio frequency identification (RFID) will also play roles in Cisco’s AON strategy, with the new products able to recognise and manage XML and RFID traffic. Both protocols are proving to be of increasing importance to network professionals as traffic into the enterprise increases. “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 William Ruh, senior director for AON at Cisco. 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. 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 move was anticipated by analysts and they see a number of potential positives as well as concerns for the enterprise. Technology analysis firm Current Analysis says that Cisco’s offering will be cheaper than many software solutions and this, along with the possible performance advantages of the hardware solution will attract customers. The firm is concerned, however, that Cisco’s proprietary solution will lock users into a web of Cisco services and support that could prove costly in the long term. “The intrusion of network providers into the middleware market has been feared and predicted for some time. It was also assumed that these network vendors would partner closely or acquire technology to enter this space. Cisco has confounded the market by coming up with its own basic messaging and event monitoring technology,” says Joel Conover, principal analyst for enterprise infrastructure at Current Analysis. 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 also comes in the wake of Juniper’s recent acquisitions of Redline and Peribit and the establishment of its Applications Products Group. Conover says Cisco needed to add new depth to its intelligent information network (IIN) strategy with the introduction of AON, as Juniper was pushing a similar message with initiatives such as its Enterprise Infranet. “Juniper should make an acquisition of a major XML switching/acceleration vendor such as DataPower or Sarvega to fortify its Enterprise Infranet strategy and establish itself as an immediate and credible competitor to Cisco in this market,” says Conover. 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 Juniper’s 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. While Cisco is immediately competing with its great router rival Juniper plus a host of start-ups, in the long term the move into applications may draw Cisco in conflict with the middleware players it is partnering with at the moment such as IBM, SAP and Tibco. The vendor has the backing of these middleware and application heavyweights as they are looking for solutions to make their applications less cumbersome over distributed computer networks. However, the logic behind the potential threat is clear. 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 more intelligence traditionally housed on the server becomes possible on the network, the more potential there is for Cisco to grab market share from these players. “Despite Cisco’s assurances to the contrary, AON is a direct threat to the integration market, particularly with respect to who will be earning the dollars for integration and professional services,” says Conover. “Integration vendors should consider partnering with other hardware acceleration vendors to keep Cisco honest and to prevent Cisco from getting overly proprietary with its methods and mechanisms,” he adds.||**||

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