Cisco Enters Middleware Market with AON Initiative

In a move that takes Cisco Systems into the middleware market, the company today unveiled plans to develop technology designed to enable networks to support intelligent decisions based on business policies.

Technology developed under the initiative, dubbed Application-Oriented Networking, or AON, also supports application needs by integrating message-level routing and communication, visibility and security directly into enterprise networks.

Put simply, this will allow disparate programs containing various types of data to speak the same language. AON, in effect, will read the messages as they pass across the network and take the necessary actions to ensure a successful handshake.

Tapping Market Potential

The overall advanced application market, which includes integration, messaging, application acceleration, security, Web services and others, could reach US$7 billion in the next four years, according to Gartner research.

Cisco is planning to introduce two new messaging and integration products later this year to increase its share of that pie, including a blade for inserting into Cisco’s switches, and a branch office router. A standalone AON device and other devices are planned as well. Cisco said IBM and enterprise resource planning software maker SAP AG already have plans to integrate products with AON.

“More and more intelligence is being built into switches,” Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff told TechNewsWorld. “This is really sort of the logical next step, particularly with XML becoming more prevalent. It lends a high level structure to a lot of messaging data that really makes this type of device possible.”

Solving the Problem

Analysts said an industry challenge has been finding a way to manage the massive routing of application messages that are either unstructured or structured in very proprietary ways. That results in a router that only works with a handful of applications.

“Although there is certainly still plenty of idiosynchrasies in XML message formats, it does at least lend a structure to things that a switch architecture like Cisco’s AON can deal with,” Haff said.

Building Instead of Buying

The Application Front End technology space has seen numerous start-ups enter the market hoping to make a mark on the industry. Juniper Networks bought one of them — Redline Network — in April for $337 million in cash, stock and assumed stock options.

It’s not surprising, then, that Cisco is moving into this arena. What is perhaps more surprising is that Cisco decided to build instead of buy.

“The historical pattern here would have been for Cisco to have bought somebody to acquire these capabilities,” Haff said. “Perhaps with Juniper Networks’ earlier acquisition, Cisco looked around and just didn’t see anything that met its requirements here and therefore it decided to build it itself.”

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