I recently attended the Cisco Networkers event in June which drew a record 7,000+ engineers. Because of the size, Cisco is breaking with tradition and holding it the same city again next year, Las Vegas.
A big part of the event is educational sessions, the majority of which are focused on certification or get deep into the guts of the Cisco OS. As CTO, I needed the bigger picture and picked 12 breakout sessions (the most one person can do from a selection of over 200) that focused on a particular technology, from both a generic and Cisco perspective.
Last year VoIP was huge. This year there were fewer sessions on VoIP at the expense of the unveiling of AON (pronounced long “a” on), Application Oriented Network.
In a nutshell, AON fits between the applications, processes, and people and the packet infrastructure. It relies on intercepting and processing inter-application messages inside the payload of a TCP packet. The structure of such messages? You guessed it, XML.
Think of AON as a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA; sigh, yes another acronym), that abstracts technology and applications into services that can be re-used to form composite applications.
Cisco has developed a AON Management Console that can take AON policies developed by their AON Design Studio (or presumably, other developers products that embrace AON) and push the policies into an AON Services Module (ASM), the first of which Cisco has developed for the Catalyst 6000 series switches.
The ASM then acts as a Policy Enforcement Point (PEP – is Cisco the new acronym king?). A simple example is a message that contains a purchase order or stock transaction over $10k. A PEP could audit and reject such a request. PEP’s can also be “trusted” with keys to handle encrypted messages.
The message-based Financial Information eXchange (FIX) protocol is a natural fit for AON for monitoring the transport and delivery of such messages, but will require some adaptation work. Since many FIX offerings use proxy servers to convert messages to the real FIX protocol, vendors will most likely offer proxies for AON as well as new clients that talk AON natively. It will be interesting to see if FIX will migrate to AON altogether. Besides the FIX alliance at large, IBM is a vendor-specific partner working on AON and WebShere integration.
I need to see much more momentum before declaring AON a success. With only a couple of partners, a few products, no endorsed industry standard, and a long way to go in terms of creating a developers network along the lines of Microsoft, AON is in its infancy, maybe even pre-birth.
Back on the subject of VoIP, I attended an interesting session entitled “Troubleshooting IP Telephony Networks: Case Studies.” It was totally different than I envisioned since it was mainly about troubleshooting SCCP problems via CCM trace files, not from VoIP packets.
My conclusion was twofold: 1) skinny is dumber than a door knob (okay, so you already knew that) and 2) protocol analysis beats log analysis. Okay, so I’m a little biased on #2, but VoIP analyzers on the critical segments monitoring SSCP and MGCP signaling is the way to go for much faster problem determination.
Another session, “Network Management for the Wireless LANs” was actually more interesting than the title. If you haven’t already heard, SWAN has been replaced by WLSE (Wireless LAN Solution Engine), pronounced “will see”. So much time was spent discussing Wireless Domain Services (WDS), the technology from the Airespace acquisition, that I couldn’t help but think I should be pronounced WLSE more like “we’ll see”.
Evidently SWAN wasn’t gonna fly with WDS. Come to think of it, have you EVER seen a swan fly? Anyhow, WLSE and WDS are both managed wireless networks. The big difference is that WDS incorporates lightweight access points that utilize the Lightweight Access Point Protocol (LWAPP) with a split 802.11 MAC architecture (very interesting) that require wireless controllers to operate. The new AP models are 1010 and 1020.
The “old” WLSE APs can operate and be managed stand-alone or via controllers. Apparently these now legacy (in my words) APs are designed to be autonomous, but if you’ve got those pricey 1100 and 1200 series APs, chances are that you’ve already made a major investment in managed wireless infrastructure.
The future however, especially in the enterprise, looks like WDS. The RF management with embedded location, survey services, and self-healing features are way cool. Take note.
As for the Networker’s keynoters, Cisco CEO John Chambers’ keynote talked up the usual hype. John claims that they are now tied with Nortel in the Enterprise VoIP space with Avaya a distant 3rd. The push is on for virtualization of resources as in “why do we care where the application is processed?” Well I care, especially when the transport is dog slow as often is the case with mobile applications. John also wants to embed the application in the network switching devices and thus the birth of AON.
That was about it for that keynote. I thought that the keynote speaker on the third morning was the best – a comedian from U.K named David Gorman that traveled the world just to visit people that “Google Whacked” a web site. He drew lots of laughs from the audience.
Come to think of it, maybe there’s a tie-in to AON – who will have the last laugh?