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Cisco To Target XML Messaging Market

UPDATED: Cisco is preparing to launch a new device that would improve the performance and security of exchanging XML messages and position the company for growth in Web services, internetnews.com has learned.

The move could create new competition for traditional providers of application server and message broker middleware, and pit the product against companies such as DataPower and Reactivity in the market for fast, multiple messaging functionality for Web services .

According to a source familiar with the plans, Cisco is quietly writing software for a hardware box that will provide transformation, security, routing, service level monitoring and logging capabilities in order to boost the performance of XML-based transactions.

The box will reportedly appear as part of the networking giant's Catalyst Ethernet switch line, equipped with dual Intel Xeon-powered blades. Moreover, the source said Cisco has hired Taf Anthias, the former CTO of IBM's MQSeries middleware group, to lead an engineering team to make products that address XML messaging.

Experts said Cisco would be testing a new competitive arena that includes current Cisco partners IBM , Microsoft and BEA Systems . The device would be able to perform many of the tasks associated with traditional middleware, such as application servers and message brokers.

Cisco declined to comment, other than to say it doesn't confirm or deny unannounced products. The company stated that, "as an industry leader and innovator, Cisco is always exploring new areas to add value for customers."

Searching for a More Intelligent Network

During its analyst conference in December, Cisco CTO Charlie Giancarlo hinted at the push into XML messaging as part of a discussion about the evolution of the networking market.

"Where we really see ourselves going is toward full message-based routing and into much higher elements of information, things like XML messages or MQ messages," he said. Giancarlo also said the move is part of Cisco's long-term strategy of creating an Intelligent Information Network that will virtualize applications and services.

The company's goal is to tie the network and applications together, so that the network can automatically provide the resources and services any application needs. This would create a services on-demand environment for users, an avenue being explored by most computing giants, including IBM and HP .

Ronald Schmelzer, whose research firm ZapThink studies the XML and Web services market, said Cisco wants to take a closer look at the content of the messages themselves, rather than just data about where the messages are going or where they came from. By inspecting the message traffic, Cisco can become much smarter or aware about what that traffic is doing.

For example, if Cisco sees that a message is a Web services call to a purchasing service, it can automatically route, apply security and add constraints to that message. If it's an XML document for a Web site, the device would apply some transformation and logging to that message.

The bottom line is that such technology, known as application-oriented networking, improves the efficiency of XML-based messages and ultimately, the performance of Web services, which ZapThink said will be a multi-billion industry over the next five years.

Joining a Crowded Market

By creating a box with software that accelerates and secures the performance of XML messages, Cisco is entering a market populated by the likes of DataPower and Reactivity.

DataPower CTO Eugene Kuznetsov said he's not surprised Cisco is moving into his backyard. The engineer said the networking market for gear such as IP and Ethernet switches, where Cisco, Juniper and Nortel Networks compete, is all but tapped out, leaving little room for those multi-billion companies to incur strong, vibrant revenue streams.

This means they have to tap other markets to make money. With the emphasis on combating clunky XML traffic at a time when interest in Web services is climbing, the market for boosting XML messaging would be a logical progression.

"Companies spend billions each year on integration software," Kuznetsov said. "Those dollars are going to IBM, Microsoft and BEA so Cisco's entrance into the market is definitely a threat to those companies. If someone is going to take $5 billion worth of IBM middleware and replace it with a $1 million worth of Cisco networking gear, that's a problem for IBM or any other software company. These things are happening in a big way."

Citing an example of his own company, Kuznetsov said one of DataPower's banking customer replaced between $7 million and $8 million in middleware from Sun Microsystems with about $500,000 worth of DataPower hardware.

There is plenty of business to go around, Kuznetsov said, noting there is little reason to fear that Cisco will eat DataPower's lunch. Also, he argued that DataPower is years ahead of where Cisco would be when it enters the market.

"Part of the reason were not worried about Cisco getting into this space is that we have such a big lead in terms of customers and products," said Kuznetsov, whose company was has been in the market since 1999. "We have the opportunity to let others do this."

Reactivity CTO Andrew Nash agreed.

"It's validation that Web services is at the point that it's worth it for big guys like Cisco to get into," Nash said.

Hungry for More?

One would think that given Cisco's penchant for scooping up new companies to acquire new technologies and revenue streams would be cause for concern for DataPower or Reactivity. If it has instilled fear in those outfits, their executives are not showing it.

Kuznetsov declined to comment on DataPower's relationship with Cisco other than to confirm the companies have discussions. Nash said Cisco and Reactivity are partners and that he's heard Cisco is going to jump into the Web services deployment world with its own technology. Analysts say it depends on what the Cisco appliance can do.

"Clearly, Cisco is going to be a challenger for many of the firms that have XML appliances in the market," said Schmelzer. "However, it's not entirely clear what features the AONs box will have and how they will enter the market, or when for that matter. So, we'll have to reserve judgment on its capabilities and impact on the market until it comes out."

Kuznetsov and Nash agreed.

"If all you do is routing, you are not able to replace the software in the middleware stack," Kuznetsov said. You have to do the transformation and integration pieces, too."

"People are used to thinking about application and network layers," Nash said. "They're only just beginning to appreciate that there is a layer in the middle that deals with Web services, service-oriented architectures and highly decoupled systems that you need to have auditing and security and control over."