Cisco adds intelligence to network gear

Cisco is embarking on a new direction as it announced Tuesday details of its first move into the messaging middleware business with its Application-Oriented Network (AON) business unit.

With AON, Cisco is adding more intelligence to the network, enabling the network to better understand business application communications to support more effective and efficient business decisions, according to company officials.

“AON is a new technology direction for Cisco as well as a new product offering,” said Stephen Cho, senior director for product management in Cisco’s AON business unit.

AON supports Cisco’s vision for the Intelligent Information Network and is a network-embedded intelligent message routing system that integrates application message-level communication, visibility, and security into the fabric of the network, said Cho.

“AON enables a network to speak the language of applications with the native understanding of application messaging in the network that allows a deep inspection of the packets,” he said.

Cisco will roll out the first products in the AON group later this year. The initial offerings will be a blade that can be used with Cisco switches and a branch office router. Eventually, the company will add a stand-alone AON device and a branch office router that connects to SAP applications, said Cho.

The AON products will be about the size of a hardback book, he said. Pricing on the products will be announced later this summer, said Cho.

Cisco is hardly going it alone in providing these services. It is also bringing aboard third-party providers who can build add-ons to Cisco’s products. IBM and Tibco Software, for instance, will participate in the middleware space, building products that will allow AON to interpret messages sent by those middleware systems.

While it might look as if Cisco’s AON and IBM’s WebSphere products would compete, IBM officials said the collaboration between the two would work to the customer’s benefit.

The goal of the collaboration is to create stronger integration between WebSphere and a number of network infrastructure layers as a way of reducing the complexity and total cost of ownership by simplifying IT infrastructure, according to IBM officials.

Another benefit of establishing tighter integration between the two companies’ respective technologies, according to IBM officials, is it can serve as a building block for a service oriented architecture (SOA). This in turn can help corporate users create an on demand business that better integrates data across the enterprise as well as externally with business partners, said officials at IBM.

By embedding the WebSphere MQ client as part of AON, it marks the industry’s first network-based messaging support for business applications. One of the major benefits is Cisco/WebSphere combination can handle processes traffic based on priority, making it easier to enforce service-level agreements and to handle traffic skews, officials from both companies said.

“Adding intelligent application message handling to the network enables applications and the network to work together as an integrated system,” said Taf Anthias, vice president and general manager of the AON business unit at Cisco.

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