Citing an epidemic of “fat and chatty” enterprise applications from Oracle, SAP, Siebel, and others, Cisco Systems Inc. has unveiled a new product called ACE (Application Control Engine) and an update to its FineGround AVS (Application Velocity System), which the company claims will make applications run faster and more securely.

ACE — a multifunction blade for the Catalyst 6500 platform — uses logical partitioning to create as many as 250 virtual instances of Cisco’s server load balancing, application delivery, and application firewall features.

Logical virtualization allows customers to partition ACEs by factors such as application, resources, or customer, says Sangeeta Anand, vice-president of product marketing for application delivery at Cisco.

Better user-role management designed to work with the partitioning allows administrators to limit access to applications based on an individual’s job description, says Anand. “There are so many groups involved in the rollout of any application,” he says, adding that user-role management gives administrators “visibility into who needs resources.”

The ACE blade for Catalyst is a much needed update to Cisco’s content switching product line, according to Joel Conover, an analyst at Current Analysis.

Cisco invested heavily in that market in the past, spending US$5.7 billion to buy content switch maker ArrowPoint Communications in May 2000.

Smaller companies such as F5, however, have driven innovation in areas such as application acceleration in recent years, whereas Cisco’s CSM (Content Switching Module) technology has languished, says Conover. Rapid growth in Internet applications — as well as demand for more bandwidth, server capacity, and application security — has grabbed Cisco’s attention, driving new investment in content switching and application acceleration, says Conover.

The new ACE module will appeal mostly to existing CSM customers who need to upgrade. However, the virtualization and partitioning features will also appeal to large enterprises that need fast, high-performance app acceleration technology, he says.

Cisco is sure to face competition from archrival Juniper and a host of smaller companies. Juniper recently announced improvements to its DX Web-based application acceleration technology for data centres and is planning more announcements around its WX WAN acceleration platform next month, according to Mike Banic, director of product marketing for Juniper.

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