Cisco’s gorilla tactics

When Cisco announces a new business venture, the industry listens. So, is its intelligent information network (IIN) really the future, or a potential banana skin?

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By  Jane Plunkett Published  July 17, 2005

|~|main_cisco_kaan.jpg|~|Cisco’s Kaan Terzioglu points to AON’s applications solution.|~|In networking terms, Cisco is the classic 500-pound gorilla: able to go wherever it wants, as the most powerful player in that market. The last few years however, have seen it venture outside that traditional networking space, with the company launching ambitious plans to change business direction. The reasoning behind the move is that with some industry experts predicting networking is all sewn up, Cisco has been looking to develop products – and revenue streams — in new areas. The blueprint for such growth has involved combining business and technology architecture to form what Cisco believes to be the future of networking: the intelligent information network (IIN). IIN is also a strategy that the networking giant believes the Middle East will be really willing to embrace. “It is easier to sway people in the Middle East to adopt IIN. People in the region are willing to learn new tricks,” Mark De Simone, vice president of operations, Cisco, told IT Weekly at its application networking conference in London last month. Having already unveiled the first two phases of IIN, Cisco has now begun rolling out the final phase: application-oriented networking (AON). Products based on AON technology are the newest additions to Cisco’s current hardware line and boast to add intelligence to the network, enabling the network to better understand business-application communications to support more effective and efficient business decisions. The lack of application collaboration has been one endless headache, causing all sorts of problems. Kaan Terzioglu, senior director of technology marketing, Cisco EMEA, cites a a number of difficulties including high costs of custom development and integration; high operational expense due to fragmented management and administration; inefficient use of systems and information; inconsistent security enforcement; and limited business process visibility. Cisco claims AON has solved these deficiencies. With AON, the company claims, the network now speaks the language of applications. AON opens up a market for network-based message routing and transformation, which enables Cisco to position network infrastructure as a tool for increasing visibility and performance of transactional exchanges typically handled entirely in software by a middleware agent. And the company is more than excited at its prospects, especially in the Middle East. ||**|||~|main_cisco_mark.jpg|~|Cisco’s Mark De Simone is confident of AON’s success. |~|De Simone predicts that the second and third wave of Cisco’s IIN strategy will be more rapidly adopted in the Middle Eastern region because most of the public services infrastructures are being built now. “The opportunity to actually create new infrastructures in places like the Middle East, where infrastructures are just being built today is a great opportunity to leap frog. It is important to get application processes to work with one another, and there has been a lot of talk about legacy environment — legacy environments from SAP and Oracle and IBM trying to communicate together,” he said. “The banking systems of the Middle East, the taxing systems of the Middle East, the civil aviation systems of the Middle East, they are all being built now. So this is a unique opportunity to build a system that is actually at the heart that is more productive, efficient and effective than the legacy systems in Europe or the US,” De Simone added. In fact, De Simone suggests that, by implementing Cisco’s IIN solutions, the Middle East has the potential to become the next hub for the financial industry in the world. Since the unveiling of AON, analysts have been taking a positive approach to the technology that promises to dramatically reduce IT costs, better secure networks and provide improved real-time visibility and responsiveness to rapidly changing business conditions. To improve business requirements, Massimo Pezzini, a Gartner Group analyst and vice president, said at the London conference that “we need to change the way we link applications.” Pezzini encourages users to spend money on application integration technologies. He sees benefits in AON, believing that it has the potential to fix business problems, such as data synchronisation, along with the potential to modify workflow to meet changing conditions, improve data and business visibility, and also have the ability to detect and respond quickly to abnormal situations and unexpected events. With AON, Cisco is claiming to offer high-volume reliable messaging, including routing, transformation capabilities, and distributed load balancing. It is bumping up message performance ten times that of its present state. The company is claiming 1000 to 5000 messages per second as opposed to non-accelerated message performance of 100 to 500 messages per second. This, according to Joel Conover, principal analyst for enterprise infrastructure at research and analysis firm Current Analysis, will appeal to users who are tasked with high- end mission-critical applications such as financial trades or other sales transactions. Exactly the enterprises Cisco said it is targeting, as well as retail, logistics, and the government. Curiously enough however, Conover points out that Cisco is not targeting the telecom/carrier space, even though it has strong customer relationships in that area. It is also an area where performance and targeted quality of service (QoS) would attract IT managers. Cisco is also being seen as stepping on the toes of middleware players with its new AON technology, which threatens middleware with its all-round ability to provide security, acceleration services, transcoding and optimisation for XML and other messaging systems. Rival middleware vendors are likely to be worried by this strategy and will fear being left somewhat out in the cold. This could explain why companies such as IBM and Tibco Software have joined partnerships with Cisco, despite the fact that Cisco potentially threatens a portion of the services revenue base of those customers. “Cisco’s AON is a direct and powerful threat to Tibco, IBM and others in the high-end messaging space. In addition to acceleration services, Cisco is offering message-level security, including digital signatures, encryption, as well as some user- level security such as authentication and PKI,” said Conover. Threatening it may well be, but Cisco’s technology will probably not be an overnight success. It may be challenged on its performance, as vendors such as Tibco, IBM and Sonic have been trying and testing their software for distributed processing, QoS, caching, and other performance and availability that runs on general purpose hardware for years now, while Cisco’s technology is immature. Indeed, John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, has said that it is too early to say how successful AON will be, recently declining to list it among his company’s advanced technology products areas: those areas where the company expects to deliver US$1 billion in annual sales. “It’s still too early to tell if it has the architecture to produce that kind of revenue,” he said at a US customer conference last month. “The opportunity is there for this to be an industry-changing technology but it also depends on how well we execute,” he added. Even though Cisco has said it is planning on selling its new technology at a fraction of the cost of much traditional messaging/EAI (enterprise application integration) software, analyst Conover predicts that the hidden costs of deploying this technology are likely to be high. “This integration almost certainly requires some level of coding to implement the message translators on the application/middleware side,” said Conover. “Therefore, implementers won’t be able to turn to their EAI vendors for the necessary support. Instead, implementers will be required to look for new sources of installation and maintenance expertise in what is likely to be a very expensive place: Cisco certified personnel,” he added. At least one application integration firm is willing to back the new technology: “If you want to have a one-stop-shop, if you want an efficient fast approach into executing one transaction that reflects in different databases or in different applications across different ministries, or across different times, AON is the way to do it,” said Tareq Abu Sharar, vice president of application integration firm Intracom. ||**||

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