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Sun 3 Jul 2005 04:00 AM

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Cisco moves into the middleware market

Cisco has stepped in where it claims middleware has failed with the unveiling of its application orientated networking (AON) business unit last month.

Cisco has stepped in where it claims middleware has failed with the unveiling of its application orientated networking (AON) business unit last month. The new strategy is a move away from Cisco’s traditional internet routing business into messaging middleware.

AON encompasses a whole family of new products to Cisco’s current networking hardware lineup, including a blade for Cisco’s Catalyst 6500 switches and branch office routers, which will be available this autumn. Cisco boasts that the products add intelligence to the network, enabling the network to better understand business-application communications to support more effective and efficient business decisions. The models are the first network products to reach beyond the packet level of traffic and understand the application message. Such ‘application aware’ products mean that traditional middleware functions such as message routing and policy enforcement can be done on the network infrastructure.

Previously businesses have had problems making independently designed applications work together, read and understand each other. With AON, Cisco claims, the network now speaks the language of applications; there is more fluency between applications. This will dramatically reduce IT costs, better secure networks and provide improved real-time visibility and responsiveness to rapidly changing business conditions, Cisco said.

Typical usage scenarios for AON to help support more effective and efficient business decisions include: application security policy enforcement; SOA/Web services transition; RFID event filtering and aggregation; regulatory compliance monitoring; financial transaction monitoring and business-to-business exchange, Cisco said. The four main industry areas of customer focus for the AON technologies are financial institutions, retail, logistics and government.

The AON strategy is seen as posing a threat to middleware because it offers an all round solution providing security, acceleration services, transcoding and optimisation for XML and other messaging systems. Rival companies have been joining forces with Cisco however to tie their products into AON devices. Middleware experts IBM, and Tibco and SAP have all partnered with Cisco to help develop ‘intelligent applications’. “IBM’s collaborative efforts with Cisco in support of AON will allow WebSphere and Cisco customers to capitalize on this emerging architecture to reduce complexity, consolidate IT, and improve performance,” said Robert LeBlanc, general manager, WebSphere, IBM Software Group.

As enthusiastic as Cisco may be, the company should not expect plain sailing with its move into application orientated networking. “This is a strong move into a small, developing market, but Cisco’s success is not assured. Several appliance vendors have been in this market longer, with more mature products. And the move from message processing is a major shift from Cisco’s packet-based world,” Gartner analysts warned last week in an online advisory.

With regards to the Middle East, Mark De Simone, vice president for operations, Cisco Systems MEA, said he was excited about AON’s prospects of rapid adoption in the region. At an EMEA level conference in London last month, Mark De Simone told IT Weekly that AON could enable the Middle East to be the next hub for the financial industry in the world. According to De Simone there is no legacy of systems in the Middle East to cause complications, as most infrastructures are just being built today from scratch, thus catering for easier adoption of AON technologies.

“Can you imagine how much wealth could be attracted to the ME if all of a sudden we take these kind (AON) of technologies and build a more efficient financial system. If you could have countries in the Middle East rise up to create an infrastructure service that is more competitive than London or Tokyo or Frankfurt or New York, you will see there will be a huge amount of investment,” said De Simone.

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