Several smaller companies have established a beachhead in this market. Solace Systems, which sells mainly to service providers, offers systems that can route messaging traffic. DataPower, Reactivity, Sarvega and Forum Systems all offer solutions for handling SOAP/XML traffic. These vendors were making some progress in penetrating the enterprise, but Cisco's entry will give the technology the validation it needs to take off.
AON blades are designed for customization and extensibility. Functions and data formats not directly supported by AON can be added through APIs and Cisco's software-development kit. This means AON devices could route, transform and act upon custom data. It's unlikely that enterprises will take advantage of that extensibility, though, because they'll consider it dangerous to let application developers muck around with critical routers in the data center. It's more likely that the extensibility features will create a new revenue stream for Cisco's professional services team, which probably will be called in to help enterprises develop the custom functionality.
In AON's first release, support for XML and SOAP is limited to some transformation, encryption and validation services. Therefore, Cisco won't initially compete with Web services management and security vendors DataPower, Reactivity and Sarvega. However, Cisco could offer custom modules for AON from existing SOAP and XML experts, as well as support for data formats used within vertical industries. AON probably will become a major platform for such products, which is good news for Cisco customers who buy into the AON story.