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Cisco branches out into middleware

Climbs up the application stack

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Cisco announced plans on Tuesday to expand out of its core routing business into messaging middleware. The first product from Cisco's Application-Oriented Network (AON) initiative, which aims to embed application aware traffic management into network infrastructures, are due to become generally available by the end of the year.

The first product will be a blade for Cisco's ISR routers and Catalyst 6500 switch running software that provide so-called intelligent message handling. Enterprises can use an AON management console to set security and application policies so that, for example, orders over a pre-set level receive preferential handling over other traffic on a network. Pricing details remain undisclosed. Cisco's roadmap also contains plans to release AON appliances over some unspecified time-frame.

Bill Ruh, senior director of worldwide AON services practices, said the technology looked at the content of a message not just packet headers. By working at the application level more sophisticated quality of service and load balancing can be carried out in the network rather than on back-end application servers or middleware platforms. "This extra processing will impact the performance of a network but if you look at a system form end-to-end performance will be just as good if not better," Ruh explained.

With AON, Cisco is seeking to move up the application stack by developing more sophisticated networking gear. Ruh downplayed suggestions it will take away sales from Cisco's middleware partners such as IBM and Tibco, who have both announced plans to release software that hooks into Cisco's AON architecture. "AON makes customer's existing middleware work better across a network," he said.

Massimo Pezzini, a VP at analysts Gartner, said Cisco had developed technology that handled application integration in the network rather than on servers. "Cisco is positioning itself to be the integrator of integrators, in partnership with integration vendors, but over the longer term there's no doubt they'll collide in the market," he said.

Pezzini said Cisco had taken a different approach to the delivery of application integration that would likely appeal to mid-range firms that have traditionally avoided the technology. The approach also lends itself to supporting the rollout of RFID (smart tag) technology which generates huge volumes of messages. Pezzini said Cisco's technology competed with integration application appliances from the likes of Cast Iron. ®

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