Cisco Everywhere: Meet SONA
Dubbed the Service Oriented Network Architecture (SONA), the concept involves tying together many of an enterprise's IT functions using the network as a common element. Cisco debuted the idea Tuesday morning at its annual analyst conference.
"We take a lot of the functions that used to exist in the applications or in the middleware and we pull them into the network," CEO John Chambers said. The network "becomes a platform -- it will deliver the applications to the users."
In the case of security, this would mean the network checks PCs for viruses before giving them network access. For mobility, the network would be able to deliver any kind of application to any device.
Cisco sees this as a logical extension of what's been happening in IP networks, as some applications such as firewalls are already being absorbed into IP infrastructure. Chief development officer Charles Giancarlo pointed to SSL acceleration as an example: "Today, you just have to do it, and if it's sucking up MIPS on that server... you'd like to offload it to the network."
With its applications focus, SONA would seem to tread on the toes of Cisco partners such as IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT). But Cisco insists that's not the case.
Cisco says it won't compete with its partners' business applications, which connect people to computers. Rather, Cisco wants to provide "collaborative" enterprise applications such as IP voice and video -- applications that connect people to each other, Giancarlo said: "There's no question that the discussion is around a lot of the same benefits to the customer, and that's where some of the nervousness comes in." Of course, there's still room for conflict in collaborative applications. "There may be a partner or so that's interested in that space," Giancarlo concedes. "Being a new space, it's a free space."
The key to SONA will be "application networking services," a technology that comes in two pieces. One is applications delivery -- functions such as acceleration, compression, and load balancing, all necessary for getting applications out to remote branch offices or consumers.
The other is Application Oriented Networking (AON), introduced in June, which allows the network (ATN) to read and interpret (R&I) the messages it transmits. (See Cisco Speaks Applications.) Among other things, AON can be a "universal translator" to let otherwise unrelated applications interact, said Giancarlo. For example, an enterprise could change applications without having to worry about uprooting an enterprise-wide middleware package, he said.
In announcing SONA today, Cisco declared application networking services as the eighth of its "advanced technologies," categories that Cisco believes can be $1 billion-a-year businesses where it can hold No. 1 or 2 market share. It's easily the most vague of the group, compared with optical networking, home networking, wireless, security, storage networking, IP telephony, and the recently announced LinkSys One platform for small business. (See Linksys Targets SMBs.)
On the business side, Cisco is pitching SONA for its "network multiplier effect," a kind of bundled-purchase savings. An IT department's expenses would normally continue growing as the business grows. Cisco argues that by assigning some IT pieces to the network, the department saves money by being able to share resources through the network.
Cisco is offering itself as an example of all this. Giancarlo pointed to the virtualization of storage within the company: "We are getting almost four times as much utilization of our disk capacity than before virtualization, because now we can use disk capacity that is in any SAN in any of our data centers."
In a sense, SONA represents Cisco's entry into Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), a hot topic that's tackled differently by different equipment vendors. An SOA allows different services to interact; Cisco is saying AON -- and therefore, SONA -- can simplify this process by providing one architecture that performs the interaction automatically.
One lingering question is how well SONA would work in a multivendor network, as the idea seems to be best tailored for an all-Cisco architecture. One analyst requesting anonymity wondered whether Cisco's plan might backfire in the long run, as customers grow weary (or wary -- or both) of having to send all their critical applications through Cisco.
SONA is the enterprise counterpart to the IP Next-Generation Network (NGN) that Cisco is pitching to service providers. Both acronyms represent Cisco's way of creating an intelligent network for a particular customer segment. "It is somewhat different for each of our customer segments," said Giancarlo.
SONA also happens to be the replacement for the Architecture for Voice, Video, and Integrated Data (Avvid) and is the latest in a string of convergence-related programs Cisco has offered during the past decade.
Of course, with plenty of Wall Street analysts in the room, Chambers and Giancarlo did their best to pitch Cisco as a growth company. It's a key point for investors, as the company's stock has been on a slow decline for the past two years.
Giancarlo tried to show how Cisco's recent moves provide headroom. Between the pending acquisition of Scientific-Atlanta Inc. (NYSE: SFA) and the addition of application networking services, Cisco's total available market should be $133 billion in 2009, he said, representing 12 percent annual growth from Cisco's 2005 total available market of 2005. (See Cisco to Acquire Scientific-Atlanta and Sci-Atlanta: Cisco's IPTV Lifeline?)
Cisco has only a 26 percent share of that total available market, and it's that fact that gives the company room to meet its goal of 10 to 15 percent annual growth, he said.
Chambers also reiterated Cisco's aim to help with "business transformation," teaching customers how to better wield the network to improve productivity and save money. This was a key part of his talk at last year's conference, and he repeated that certain customers -- including the Big Three U.S. auto makers -- have been asking Cisco for it. (See Cisco Rolls Out Roadmaps.)
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading