Cisco bets on service-oriented ‘network’ architecture

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Cisco Systems Inc. announced its Application Networking Systems (ANS) technology this week, which the vendor says will help reduce wait times for companies running software from remote servers by making the networks work with applications and messages, not just with packets and protocols.

ANS encompasses product groups that have been previously announced, including wide-area network application engine (WAE), but is also part of Cisco’s Service-Oriented Network Architecture (SONA), which the vendor describes as a “framework” that lets businesses develop an intelligent information network (IIN), a concept Cisco introduced in 2002.

Applications such as Web services and transaction-based software often send files between branch offices and centralized data centres, and in some cases a file will make 4,000 round trips from one processor to another, said Jayshree Ullal, senior vice-president in charge of Cisco’s data center, switching and security technology group.

During a press briefing at Cisco’s Worldwide Analyst Conference, held at the Santa Clara Convention Centre, Ullal said the protocol overhead in network-based applications means each round trip could take 10 milliseconds within a data centre, but the delay could be nearly a third of a second for an application running over a wide-area network, even if it’s on a high-speed connection.

“Potentially you could have a response time delay of up to 20 minutes when you’re across the wide area, on high speed, and even four seconds in a data centre,” she said, adding it’s “not always practical” to increase the network speed or add more servers to the data centre. “Wouldn’t it be better if the network, which is operated today on packets and protocols, could be intelligent enough to understand messages, applications and make the networks more application-aware?”

ANS includes modules for Cisco Catalyst switches and wide-area file services (WAFS) products.

Companies are centralizing servers and other equipment in data centres to help make it easier to comply with financial reporting regulations and other corporate accountability laws, said Andreas Antonopolous, senior vice-president and founding partner of Nemertes Research in New York, who attended the conference.

“It’s becoming very very difficult to do regulatory compliance with massively distributed servers and storage, so pulling things back from the branch has a lot to do with the fact that it’s cheaper to do compliance in a centralized location,” he said.

Charlie Giancarlo, Cisco’s chief development officer, said under SONA, the network can let other IT assets increase their efficiency because a greater proportion of the devices will be used. SONA allows more “virtualization,” meaning different components from different vendors can be used as a “virtual pool.”

“It touches all the IT assets in an organization and doing it in a way that makes sense for all the places in the network – tying it together so they act as an end to end system,” Giancarlo said.

Antonopoulos said Cisco’s strategy of “virtualizing” storage and security – meaning the services will be provided over a network rather than as single products – is a key part of Cisco’s SONA strategy.

“Vendors have been offering virtualized security products, but that’s mostly been targeted at the service providers” who use firewalls to separate traffic from different customers, Antonopoulos said.

But Cisco is talking about virtualized security for enterprises, especially in data centres.

“As storage virtualizes, as computing virtualizes, if security doesn’t catch up, that presents a conundrum for the data centre manager, and I think it’s very important that we’re seeing this virtualized security within SONA,” Antonopoulos said.

Ullal said ANS includes “detection engines” for network packets that inspect them to ensure they do not contain viruses or other malware.

“You should be able to inspect the applications, whatever they are, over the network,” she said.

The Worldwide Analyst Conference continues Wednesday.

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