Cisco ACEs Applications
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is continuing its push into application control with today's release of its Application Control Engine (ACE), a new card for the Catalyst 6500 line.
ACE is part of application networking services, the latest of Cisco's "advanced technologies" expected to become $1 billion markets. The argument here is that applications are so complex that the routers and switches need to help them out, providing things like load balancing or security.
Cisco's other eight advanced technology areas are optical, home networking, wireless, security, storage, IP telephony, the LinkSys One platform for small businesses, and the Scientific-Atlanta Inc. purchase.
Application network services, in turn, is part of Cisco's Service Oriented Network Architecture (SONA), an enterprise-minded initiative announced in December. (See Cisco Everywhere: Meet SONA.) SONA is the enterprise analogue to the IP next-generation network that Cisco pitches to carriers.
ACE separates enterprise users and applications by setting up 250 virtual partitions, each one having a separate switch. The enterprise can set up access control rules determining who gets access to which of the partitions.
This can be useful if, for example, some enormous BEA Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BEAS) or Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) application is getting installed enterprisewide. The BEA application, for example, could get its own set of partitions that an on-site BEA team could employ as they install new services.
ACE follows the trend of Cisco absorbing more functions into its boxes, but the company still sells application-aware appliances, too. Today's announcement included a software upgrade for the Application Velocity System (AVS), a stackable security box from the FineGround acquisition. (See Cisco Chomps FineGround.)
Sure, the AVS functions could get absorbed into the 6500. "ACE is a very extensible platform, and I'll leave it there," says Jay Mellman, director of products and technology marketing. But he insists Cisco won't kill off appliances: "Cisco offers a choice of form factors, and you'll expect to see the same kind of choice in this arena."
Competition for ACE will come from Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), courtesy of the Redline acquisition. But the technology more directly attacks smaller companies like Citrix Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CTXS), which recently acquired Netscaler; F5 Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FFIV); and Radware Ltd. (Nasdaq: RDWR). (See Juniper Takes Two: Peribit & Redline and Citrix to Buy NetScaler for $300M.)
"F5 is, I think, the No. 1 target. They've been in the driver's seat for a while," says Joel Conover, an analyst with Current Analysis .
In fact, Cisco pretty much had to produce something new to fend off F5. "If you look at the market six months ago, F5 was competing neck-and-neck with Netscaler, and Redline was poking its head in where it could. Cisco had the lion's share of the installed base, but they didn't have a new product," Conover says.
He adds that ACE, while being a nice sign of progress, isn't quite an F5 killer. "F5 still has an advantage, because F5 has spent a lot of time integrating features and security."
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading