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Can Cisco Systems Sell A Smarter Network?

If networks could speak the language of the software applications that run on top of them, they could do a better job of shuttling data around. That's been the vision of Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers for some time, and the company will take a leap toward that goal with its application-oriented networking technology, due later this year.

"AON will add a level of intelligence that will allow the network to understand the information coming from applications, as well as perform various functions on the information," Chambers says.

AON lets networks understand and act on data, CEO Chambers says.

AON lets networks understand and act on data, CEO Chambers says.

By understanding what it's transporting, an AON-enabled network will recognize sensitive data and add security features to it. Or it could view the contents of a purchase order in transit and ensure that it reaches its correct destination. Today, such functions typically are handled by middleware. Cisco's forthcoming AON technology is a blade that runs special software and takes one of the slots in a switch or a router.

The key benefit to the approach is reducing IT complexity by having the network play a more active role in application-to-application communications, says Cisco chief technology officer Charles Giancarlo. Customers that have Cisco's Catalyst 6500 Series switches or 2600, 2800, 3700, and 3800 Series routers won't have to replace their existing infrastructure and can plug in AON blades when they become available, Giancarlo says.

Still, the vendor has some convincing to do. "Cisco is taking a big risk, because it has yet to see whether companies are ready to put their applications on [an AON] network," says Ken Presti, an analyst at research firm IDC. Some customers attending Cisco's Networkers 2005 user conference last week said they don't quite understand the technology. Others, while finding the technology interesting, think it could be years before it's applicable to their companies.

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