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Cisco tips hand on new business unit

At SAP conference, company gives early look at application-aware networking initiative from its AON business unit.

BOSTON--Cisco Systems gave a peek at the work going on in its new business unit this week, signaling the company's push to drive sales of its networking gear.

Taf Anthias, vice president and general manager of Cisco's AON business unit, demonstrated two Cisco devices under development at SAP's customer conference here Thursday.

AON stands for application-oriented networking, which is one of Cisco's initiatives to add more "intelligence" to its networking gear, Anthias said. Industry executives have said that products from the AON business will compete with existing makers of XML processing hardware products.

Anthias said that application-oriented networking differs from traditional networking products in that Cisco's devices will be able to "read" the contents of traffic, rather than simply deliver it to other portions of the network.

The products he showed off, which are not yet available, make use of SAP's Enterprise Services Architecture--the software blueprint underlying SAP's business applications--to create close ties between Cisco networking gear and SAP's back-office applications.

In one demonstration, Anthias and Shai Agassi, president of SAP's product and technology group, displayed a Cisco box designed for use by small and midsize businesses or branch offices in larger companies.

Choosing from a menu, a person could configure this "edge box" to provide access to SAP applications from a remote site. Other services include voice mail (via voice over IP), wireless, security and compression.

"We knew if we could make the network work with a common language (with SAP applications), we can bring a different level of scalability and simplicity," Anthias said.

The Cisco device runs a portion of SAP's NetWeaver middleware, specifically a portion of SAP's Business Process Platform, according to Agassi.

The set-up of the edge device is designed to be simple, with only one network cable in the back. The two companies also showed off a larger data center switch that they are collaborating on.

The Cisco gear is "application aware," demonstrators said, showing how the device can recognize an incoming call as being from a customer and immediately pull up that person's file from SAP applications.

Anthias, who has been at Cisco for at least a year, worked on IBM's MQSeries, heading up development of the messaging middleware, which is widely used among large corporations.

He declined to say when the SAP offerings would be available. He said the AON business unit in Cisco is also working on other products.