Perfect platforms

Enterprises in the Middle East is starting to realise the importance of using applications that integrate seamlessly.

  • E-Mail
By  Alex Ritman Published  February 1, 2006

|~|Mohamed-Sphere-dec05-200.jpg|~|“The networking vendors are starting to notice that the customer is now less focused on hardware features and protocols and more on the performance of their business applications. This trend is the future of any enterprise. If vendors do not adopt, they will most likely be left behind.”Mohamed Hamedi, CEO of Sphere Networks.|~|In December 2005, Cisco Systems announced its next new advanced technology initiative, Application Network Services (ANS), the ninth in a series of growth opportunities the giant has identified as US$1 billion business sectors within seven years. Application acceleration and network optimisation are often referred to as the next big thing. We have all heard such hype before, but for Mohamed Hamedi, CEO at Dubai-based Sphere Networks, this is very real. “The extreme dependency that we have today on our network is real and increasing,” he says. “Therefore the need to optimise and accelerate the network as a whole has direct impact on the bottom line.” Cisco chief development officer Charles Giancarlo, calls it a “bit of a bottom line paradox”, with software applications becoming more sophisticated and crucial to businesses, but at the same time more complex to manage, causing additional expenses. Juniper Network’s vice president of emerging technologies EMEA, Steven Wastie, is also confident that network optimisation technology is not just hype, and that CIOs are making serious decisions regarding their applications. “The issues around network and application efficiency due to competition, regulatory compliance and cost are critical – CIOs face them every day, and are investing in solutions accordingly.” Because of the demand, Hamedi says applications performance is becoming increasingly important to networking vendors. “The networking vendors are starting to notice that the customer is now less focused on hardware features and protocols and more on the performance of their business applications. This trend is the future of any enterprise. If vendors do not adopt, they will most likely be left behind.” Wastie believes it is a critical area within the network. “Sequentially, the network is the arterial system to support business processes and operations, which in turn rely upon fast, reliable application performance.” Pressure from competition is the driving force for efficiency and cost reduction in many enterprises, says Wastie. “Competitive pressure in today’s commercial environment is driving efficiency and cost reduction more rigorously than ever in many enterprises,” he adds. “Also, regulatory compliance demands are driving tighter controls over content and access to content, leading in part to centralisation.” This frequently separates users from application services and puts additional strain on the network. “Making efficiency and cost-effectiveness even harder to achieve,” claims Wastie. The increasing complexities and sophistication of enterprise networks have altered how we view them, says Hamedi. “Enterprise networks have become so complex and sophisticated that we can no longer look at it in terms of cable and connectors. The customer is more concerned with managing business logic.” Sphere Networks, says Hamedi, treats the network as one. “And abstract it to a higher level point where users no longer can separate their hardware devices and software applications.” The Sphere Pro Active Management platform has been built “from the ground up to be extendable with a sophisticated plug-in system,” he claims. “All the plug-ins can communicate and exchange information seamlessly, from network fault information, application management, as well as traffic and security information.” Juniper Networks approach is to provide a single box solution for all the key elements of Wide Area Network (WAN) optimisation, which according to Wastie, drives down cost and complexity. “The Juniper solution is non-intrusive and transparent. It also minimises any changes to the network or application code.” A critical requirement for large global deployments is the ease and speed the application acceleration is deployed, something Wastie says Juniper delivers. Hamedi believes the Middle East market is still in the early stages of picking up this kind of technology. “The Middle East market is still in the learning stage, as more and more corporations realise the benefits of unifying their management using such tools as our Arena Network Manager.” But for Juniper, the Middle East has revealed some success stories for its offering, which includes scalable solutions that accelerate application performance, increase WAN capacity and enable application prioritisation and visibility. Wastie points to the Dubai Municipality as one example. “It realised peak reduction rates of 80%, and average reduction rates of 65%. The latter corresponds to a threefold increase in capacity.” Wastie says that Dubai Municipality estimated a 12-month return-on-investment (ROI), compared to purchasing additional capacity to improve application performance. Enterprises are running more converged applications on their networks, becoming more dependent on business applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM). “Enterprises need to better manage data flow or business processes is needed to have a trouble free and optimised infrastructure, [which] will lead to reduced down times and increase productivity,” says Hamedi, adding that this is reflected directly on the enterprises’ financials.||**|||~|charlie_giancarlo_cisco200.jpg|~|“Cisco Application Networking Services are not middleware, and they do not compete with products from middleware vendors. We are not designing our services to support specific applications. Rather, they provide capabilities for improving the speed, accessibility, and interoperability of most type of business application.” Charles Giancarlo, chief development officer and senior vice president of Cisco Systems.|~|Wastie also believes the financial savings are there with deployment of such optimisation technology, among other benefits. “Effective applications solutions bring increased business performance, so quicker response time for applications and financial savings through both capital and operational expenditure,” There is also compliance and risk reduction, reducing backup costs, the speed to data recovery sites and quicker recovery times. Justifying the investment may be difficult, says Hamedi. “Due to mainly the still higher cost of deploying application optimisation, and the lack of understanding of this new technology.” But Wastie at Juniper says the ROI isn’t too long. “Typically a six-to-nine month ROI can be expected, but it varies from case to case. In some instances an ROI can be measured in weeks.” According to statistics from Gartner, the application acceleration market was worth approximately US$1.5 billion in 2005, a 33% increase over 2004. The research company estimates that by 2009 the market will reach to US$2.3 billion in end-user sales. The company also claims the move in the direction of multi-function boxes will rise substantially. “The trend toward powerful platforms that deliver four or more functions will accelerate as customers strive to simplify their infrastructure and vendors move to grow market revenue and increase account control,” says Joe Skorupa, research director for Gartner. “Cisco, Citrix and Juniper have entered this market through acquisitions. Consolidation will continue as strong platform players acquire promising software providers that have not reached critical mass.” The report from Gartner divides the application acceleration market into two categories, application delivery controllers (ADC) and WAN optimisation controllers (WOC). Between the first and second quarters of 2005, the ADC market grew by 12% to US$177 million, the firm claims. Cisco was the market leader in the worldwide ADC market in the first quarter of 2005, but has since lost share to F5 Networks, which continues to dominate the ADC advanced platform market segment. Gartner attributes Cisco’s falling market share to the company’s dependence on out-of-date Layer 4 through Layer 7 switches. Cisco’s recent move into ANS market is seen by Skorupa as the company’s attempt to make up the lost ground. “If the [vendor] had declared Application Oriented Networking (AON) an advanced technology two years ago, that would have been visionary. But today it is catching up to the vision of F5, Juniper, Riverbed, and a host of other vendors.” George Kurian, Cisco vice president and general manager, says ANS encompasses two different approaches. “Application delivery services focused on optimising and securing communications between end-users and applications or application services, and optimising communication between applications and other applications.” Cisco’s ANS goes a step further than the application-oriented networking (AON), which was launched in 2005. AON adds more “intelligence” to Cisco’s networking hardware line, inspecting transmitted information and routing messages based on predefined policies. The ANS software takes this idea further by assisting companies in linking their applications to deliver service much faster and cheaper than they have previously. The reach of ANS will be broad, encompassing TCP/IP and SSL offloading, Layer 4-7 load balancing and switching, traffic compression, WAN optimisation, remote file access, on top of the technologies around Cisco’s AON initiative. Giancarlo, who unveiled ANS at a Cisco analyst conference in San Jose, California, says the technology comes under the new architectural concept umbrella known as Service Oriented Network Architecture (SONA). SONA works toward building the Intelligent Information Network, what Cisco calls its “vision” for the next generation of business networks. The thrust of the idea was to build a network that did much more than move data from point A to point B. “The intelligence in the network helps it recognise different types of traffic and provide assistance to help applications, devices or anything else connected to the network work better.” While client/server applications have revolutionised the way businesses and organisations operate, Giancarlo says over time these applications have become more complex. “To make applications effective and reach as many employees as possible, businesses have extended them across their network and even beyond while interoperating them with a multitude of other applications and devices.” However, Giancarlo says this has led to increased complexities, greater security concerns, performance issues, and other challenges. Many corporate applications were not designed to run over wide area networks, which operate differently. Furthermore, companies are struggling to provide remote or mobile workers the same level of access enjoyed by office workers. “And security and compliance issues are becoming more daunting. Organisations are also struggling with managing their data centres as each application requires its own set of computing resources, which leads to inefficiencies and escalating expenses,” he adds. Cisco’s applications services, Giancarlo claims, are designed to reduce these complexities and reduce the costs of running applications while increasing the benefits organisations receive from their investments in these software programs by helping them better scale, deliver, optimise and integrate. Cisco is quick to point out that ANS is not designed to replace existing applications, but rather complement them. “Cisco’s Application Networking Services are not middleware, and they do not compete with products from middleware vendors,” says Giancarlo. “Rather, ANS will help middleware work more effectively.” He says that ANS will not see Cisco entering the applications business or the business processes management arena. “We are not designing our ANS to support specific applications. Rather, they provide a generic set of capabilities for improving the speed, accessibility, and interoperability of most type of business application.”||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code