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Cisco vs. Juniper over app-aware networks

Jan 04, 20064 mins

* Application-aware networking is a whale of an opportunity neither Cisco nor Juniper can let slip by

Gregg Chottiner is truly in the trenches of the application-aware networking fight. As CIO of the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), he must make sure that students and professors accessing the largest public distance-learning university in the world can do their coursework 24/7, from anywhere.

The Adelphi, Md., university runs two critical Web-enabled applications: PeopleSoft, for human resources and finance administration, and WebTycho, a proprietary learning-management system. As the university grew, controlling performance of these applications became difficult, he recalls.

“We were continually having to buy new networking hardware just to keep things static,” Chottiner says, noting that his core network is composed of Cisco gear. “And we kept buying more network bandwidth, but we realized we weren’t solving the problem that way – we were just spending more money.”

The answer came in a pair of Juniper Networks’ DX3250 application-acceleration appliances. Based on technology Juniper acquired in April from Redline Networks, the gear not only improves performance of critical Web applications, but also handles security via an integrated intrusion-prevention system.

“Anybody who has a Web app [for] customers or clients needs to look at [application-aware networking], because people don’t have much patience anymore,” Chottiner says. “If it’s an underperforming Web site, or it’s difficult to navigate, they don’t come back.”

UMUC’s case is becoming the norm, especially as more organizations consolidate and centralize their servers and applications for better security and accountability, analysts say. The bulk of these newly centralized applications weren’t designed to run across the wide area. They use protocols, such as MAPI, designed for an environment in which the client is no more than 100 meters from the server. “The protocols are very chatty, and with applications being hosted in Chicago and serving people in Bangalore and China, performance gets bad fast,” says Joe Skorupa, a research director at Gartner.

Application performance will get worse as organizations begin moving to Web services and service-oriented architectures (SOA), he says, adding that with the expected upturn in SOA applications, the market for application acceleration and application-aware networking is poised to reach $1.5 billion this year.

Enter Cisco and Juniper and their push to make the network more application-aware. The idea, they say, is to offload low-level communications and protocol-manipulation tasks from overtasked servers to high-performance network gear. In many cases, removing those tasks can free up as much as 80% server utilization, while resulting in more efficient applications with faster response times and lower bandwidth needs – all without having to invest in a lengthy, complex and expensive application rewrite. The sweet spot, they say, occurs when application-aware networks do all that, plus security functions such as SSL VPN and intrusion prevention and detection and key tasks such as load balancing.

To that end, Cisco recently launched its Application-Oriented Network (AON) initiative, and Juniper announced its intention to deploy enterprise infranets – both of which are code words for this multifaceted, application-aware networking gear. Although Cisco AON gear will be fully integrated with its signature routers and switches, Juniper’s offerings are designed to coexist with the underlying network, because in many cases, Juniper doesn’t own the infrastructure – Cisco does.

The prospects look good for Cisco, with its large installed base, and for Juniper, with its feature-rich offerings, analysts say. Still, they’re late on the scene – which has forced each into acquisition mode. Cisco acquired FineGround Networks, and Juniper grabbed Redline and Perabit Networks. Others that have staked out territory are F5 Networks, Citrix Systems (which recently acquired NetScaler) and Radware, on the front-end application-processor side, and Riverbed (recently bought by HP), Expand Networks and others, on the WAN-optimization side.

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Cummings is a freelance writer in North Andover, Mass. She can be reached at