The hip new frontier of IT got a severe dose of old school this week when Cisco Systems Inc. rolled out its application-oriented networking (AON) hardware line, complete with collaborative tie-ins to IBM's WebSphere middle platform.
Cisco spread its bets around with other established software vendors such as SAP AG, Tibco Software Inc. and VeriSign Inc., but the IBM partnership opens the door to capture some of the more cautious, staid companies that have been reluctant to pursue a service-oriented architecture (SOA). At the heart of the union is IBM's MQSeries messaging bus, generally regarded as the paterfamilias of the middleware industry.
"MQ [MQSeries] because it's so widely deployed plays a role in connectivity in a lot of large corporations," said Forrester Research Inc. analyst Mike Gilpin. "Those corporations have spent a lot of money to get this infrastructure built and they've got people trained in managing it. It makes sense for them to build from there."
MQ cut its teeth in the hardwired, pre-Internet transaction processing world. Its core functionalities are guaranteed one-time delivery and an ability to handle huge messaging volumes.
That dovetails nicely with the vision Cisco has for its AON push. Stephen Cho, Cisco's senior director of product management for the AON business unit, summed up the vision of the new product line as "an effort to bring the solid-state approach we've taken toward hardware into the middleware space."
Cho targeted CPU-intensive XML processing and the messaging frenzy created within an SOA model as two areas where Cisco is hoping to provide relief.
"The amount of application messages moving between those [middleware] systems is growing exponentially," he said. "Companies are going to reach a point where their architecture simply will not scale under that avalanche of activity."
Cho envisions AON as a widely distributed layer 5 and 6 set of devices that can be located in close proximity to a user's widely distributed applications. The MQ tie-in would enable quick communication between the devices and the applications.
"With the MQ client embedded in the hardware you get guaranteed reliability," said IBM spokesman Scott Sykes.
Of course that begs the question as to whether this really is an SOA play or a method of clearing out messaging bottlenecks. Technically speaking, it's a point-to-point, adapter-based model concerned with runtime issues, instead of a many-to-many design aimed at the application development market.
Gilpin believes the move is a bit of both, offering some functionality to large corporate users in a place and tightly coupled method where they can start to make changes. Over time he expects the AON line will branch out and embrace the Java Messaging Service and Web services standards to drive deeper into the loosely coupled world.