Cisco Systems yesterday unveiled new technology that will allow network devices to read, interpret and respond to application-layer messages in real-time. This could potentially ease the burden of application integration.
The Cisco application oriented-network (AON) architecture and the family of appliances that will populate it will begin shipping in the autumn.
By enabling network appliances to "speak the language of applications", Cisco said customers will be able to build an enterprise nervous system capable of responding to events in real-time. It is expected to provide a platform for delivering a variety of different services, such as security, policy enforcement and web services as generic network functions, without requiring any modification to the overlying applications.
Nick Earle, Cisco's VP EMEA, said that AON will go far further than current network appliance services, such as traffic shaping and protocol switching. These "application aware" devices "generally only read the headers on data packets, they don't know anything about what they contain. Using application oriented systems at the network level, in real-time I not only know it's a packet, I know it's a purchase order, I know it's for 50,000 widgets, and I know that because it is for more than 10,000 widgets it must be referred to a particular application."
Earle said he expected AON's impact on enterprise IT architecture to prove as profound as the migration from mainframe to client/server systems in the 1980s.
Cisco's claims for AON are likely to strike a chord with growing number of companies that are currently moving to a service-oriented application (SOA) model in order to realise a more dynamic and responsive IT infrastructure, capable of constructing and deconstructing application services on-demand.
AON promises to help achieve this by shifting application integration from the domain of back-office servers to the real-time world of the switch fabric. This will reduce the potential for latency issues in web services environment and, "because you can now do this [application message routing, security and translation] in the network you do it universally rather than on an application by application basis, because the network touches everything" said Cisco's VP of worldwide product and technology marketing, Rob Redford.
Cisco said its early AON technology will be delivered either as a bladed fabric designed to sit in its high-end data centre router products, or as a firmware module for smaller routers. It is also said dedicated AON appliances may be released later.
Although Cisco promised that customers' applications will require little or no modification to benefit from AON, it appears that middleware and application vendors may need to optimise their products. Accompanying Cisco's announcement were statements of support from IBM, SAP, Tibco, EDS and SAIC, among others.
IBM's WebSphere general manager, Robert LeBlanc, said IBM is cooperating with Cisco to optimise WebSphere for the AON platform, and Shai Agassi, SAP's chief technology strategist, said the combination of the application vendors NetWeaver technology would AON create a new era of continuous, seamless process deployment.
Massimo Pezzini, a Gartner research VP, greeted Cisco's announcement – characterising it as a "collision" between the world's of networking and application integration that is in step with the growing demand among IT users for granular, real-time and policy-driven infrastructure. However, he stopped short of endorsing Cisco's own assessment of AON's likely impact on enterprise IT practice: "I'm not sure if it is a disruptive event or not" he said, adding "it's certainly unusual."