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Thu 23 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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Network Middle East electronic edition 27th June, 2005

The battle for middleware|~||~||~|Lord of the Rings fans are well aware of what a bloody affair the battle for Middle Earth turned out to be, but it could prove a trifle in comparison to the battle for middleware. Cisco Systems bears no particular resemblance to the armies of Mordor but the recent announcement of its application oriented networking (AON) strategy is akin to a declaration of war against middleware players.

Cisco has announced its strategy with a raft of new products, including blades for its data centre switches and branch office routers. The models are the first network products to look beyond the packet level of traffic and understand the application message. This means that traditional middleware functions such as message routing and policy enforcement can be done on the network infrastructure.

This is a direct encroachment into the territory of the middleware players, although for the moment some, such as IBM and Tibco, are allying with Cisco in a bid to make their offerings more accessible in distributed computing environments.

AON is a powerful threat to middleware players because Cisco has rolled out a well-featured offering with acceleration services, message level security including digital signatures, encryption, as well as some user level security such as authentication and PKI, all on-board.

Cisco is also likely to challenge the traditional ebusiness and Application Integration (EAI) market as it includes business event capabilities, allowing events to be closely monitored and filtered and fed up to an enterprise console. Cisco will also challenge on price, with the touted average selling price of US$40,000 well below traditional messaging/EAI software.

The attraction for Cisco is clear. For a company with an insatiable appetite for growth, there simply isn’t the room to manouvre in traditional networking, so it must target new areas.

If Cisco can create a compelling offering it should open up the kind of revenue opportunities that will afford the vendor a fair stab at achieving its goal of doubling its business to US$50billion by 2009. The move could be particularly helpful in expanding the reach of Cisco’s services business.

While threatened, middleware and EAI players are far from fleeing in retreat at Cisco’s advance. The established application players have a number of aces up their sleeves still.

For one, as Cisco’s solution depends on its own hardware, it is proprietary, which won’t sit well with every customer. Furthermore, the new Cisco solution hasn’t been field-tested and proven, so established vendors can question its actual performance levels.

Also, the knock-on costs of deploying the new technology may be high. The hardware-based approach to message handling is fairly new, and will almost certainly require some level of coding to implement the message translators on the application/middleware side. Implementers will have to rely on Cisco certified personnel to perform this function.

The intrusion of network providers into the middleware market has been predicted for some time, although Cisco has surprised the competition by going it alone with self-built technology.

It is hard to predict whether Cisco’s cut-price hardware option will successfully challenge the incumbent software solutions but a long and bloody conflict seems a likely outcome.||**||

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