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Network devices simplifying integration, Web services security

Cisco's planned foray into application-oriented networking helps elevate the work of the early pioneers.

Cisco's recent entry into the application-oriented networking space cast a spotlight on an area where some young companies have already been developing -- and selling -- products that include XML routers and accelerators, XML security devices, and application integration appliances.

That's a good news/bad news situation for vendors like DataPower. "We're not that worried over [the] short term, but in the long run we have to think about it," said Eugene Kuznetsov, chief technology officer of DataPower Technology Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. However, he said, "[Cisco] validates a true network device approach."

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The idea behind application-oriented networking is to apply network concepts "to cut costs, rationalize the infrastructure, and get greater agility," Kuznetsov said.

Kuznetsov founded DataPower in 1999. With a team of MIT engineers, he worked to address XML processing requirements, and in 2001 DataPower introduced XML Generation Three (XG3), technology for processing XML securely in purpose-built hardware. Among DataPower's products are an XML accelerator, secure gateway, and integration appliance.

According to Kuznetsov, application-oriented networking "hasn't been understood as [a] category. It's a whole new way of getting on-demand application-to-application integration."

The intelligent network also offers a way to provide Web services security. Salt Lake City-based Forum Systems Inc., founded in May 2001, offers several form factors for its Web services security products: software, hardware, and embedded offerings. "In a lot of cases people buy software when they want to put it with an application container. As traffic increases at that end point, they gravitate toward hardware," said Weston Swenson, president and CEO.

Application-oriented networking can simplify what was once complex, said Fred Meyer, president and CEO of four-year-old Cast Iron Systems, in Mountain View, Calif. With previous software-based integration solutions, "the complexity of integration overwhelmed the problem you were trying to solve," he said.

British American Tobacco, based in London, has been using Cast Iron routers since 2003. "Software middleware was costing us too much to run, and it was too time-consuming to build new integrations," said Kevin Poulter, application technology manager. "In terms of taking us toward a more service-oriented architecture, [a software-based approach] would've cost us a significant investment of extra product[s]."

Compared with traditional middleware solutions, "there is little or no programming, it's all graphical; and the adapters come bundled with the appliance, so there's no additional cost," Poulter said. "It doesn't matter how many SAP systems we connect with, it's the same cost. With the old-school adapter model you connected two SAP systems and that was twice the money."

Cast Iron last week announced the Application Router 3000 and the Application Router 3000 High-Availability pair. New features in the Application Router 3000 (AR3000) include increased performance, support for SAP connectivity, lifecycle management, and support for data in any language. "We're focused on the integration of all types of interfaces; [the majority of applications] are not XML enabled yet," Meyer said.

While players like Cast Iron target the enterprise network, Solace Systems Inc., in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, targets service providers with the Solace Systems 3200 Series Multiservice Message Router. "Application-aware routing and intelligent networking is something service providers can do to offer added value to customers;" said Peter Ashton, vice president of marketing and product management.

DataPower also recently moved beyond its enterprise focus to target telecommunications companies, with the introduction of a high-end, blade-based solution for the service provider market based on the IBM BladeCenter T and the DataPower XG 4th Generation XML silicon.

With the specter of Cisco looming large over the application-aware networking market, Forum Systems' Swenson pointed out that many of the existing products are in their third, fourth, or even fifth generation. "The small vendors in this space do an extremely good job. There's a certain degree of expertise required to participate."

While Cisco has resources and expertise, it is starting later. According to Jon Oltsik, senior analyst for information security at Enterprise Strategy Group, in Milford, Mass., "our research indicates users aren't willing to wait around for Cisco anymore."

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