Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Next Generation Networks

AON makes application performance the network's business

Application-oriented networking moves some application development workloads to the network in a bid to reduce time to market for application deployment and get rid of some of the most labor-intensive tasks.

Originally developed and used by Cisco in the mid-2000s, application-oriented networking (AON) is at the technology forefront for creating a more seamless path for application development and deployment — with the help of the network.

What AON does is ease the task of integrating applications across heterogeneous IT infrastructure. It does this by reducing the number of applications and interfaces that developers and network administrators have to change in order to effect application upgrades and changes in software policies. Consider, for instance, today's application development environment. It's heavily focused on mobile apps and also on the plethora of different user and customer devices and operating systems. Ensuring that everyone 'out there' gets a new version of your app that works seamlessly with their device is no slam dunk. Often, right-fitting an app to multiple devices requires numerous iterations of the same task. The repetition of a largely manual function invites potential for error.

Cisco decided to do something about the problem several years ago, and has a case study that describes the effort in great detail.

An internal Cisco survey indicated that moving a core group of traditional application functions to the network would enable Cisco to retire more than 100,000 lines of code, reduce maintenance and free up hardware and memory on application servers.

In a nutshell, the company had over 10,000 applications and a 900-person software development staff. It wanted to reduce time to market for application deployment — and also some of the labor-intensity inherent in appdev tasks.

The decision was to move a common set of application development tasks to the network itself — such as fine-tuning an application for different computing environments and languages that it operates in.

"We wanted to standardize selected capabilities and make them independent of the technology or environment," said Cisco's Hicham Tout, IT architect for platform services at the time. The project was driven by an internal Cisco survey that indicated that moving a core group of traditional application functions to the network would enable Cisco to retire more than 100,000 lines of code, reduce maintenance and free up hardware and memory on application servers. Cisco reported that it reduced application development and debugging time from 240 to 120 hours for three HR hiring applications.

More than five years later, this naturally begs the question of why AON — and the shift of application development workloads to the network in general — are taking time for enterprises to adopt.

Here are a few salient facts:

Enterprises still spend over 50 percent of their development time on application maintenance. This prevents them from pursuing new app development and methodologies as aggressively as they'd like to.

While enterprises are placing emphasis on mobile app development that could profit from AON, there is still great confusion about what the best mobile app development strategy is. A 2012 survey by IDG Research found that 86 percent of IT decision makers see mobile apps as critical, but two-thirds also said it's very challenging to deliver these apps on time or within budget.

Return on investment (ROI) is expected right away. A tightly described business case that's readily measurable is the best 'pilot test' for AON — because it's difficult for IT to measure and monetize infrastructure performance improvements (such as from AON within the network) unless a tight set of metrics and controls is used that non-IT persons (like line-of-business managers) can understand and appreciate.

There is more IT silo breakdown work to do. Network and applications people still do not work together seamlessly on application performance management as they should.

Network management must integrate with IT infrastructure management. Until all managed IT assets — be they network, storage, servers or other — appear in a single pane of glass on a system console for a systems programmer or an app developer, end-to-end application visibility will be elusive. This total and seamless visibility is the goal that every tech vendor is working towards, but we're not there yet. Until we do get there, we will likely continue to have a lack of appreciation of how assets located in different areas of IT infrastructure can help other assets.

How long these problems take to get resolved is anyone's guess — but it doesn't change a future outlook where the network is destined to play a more integral role in application management than it ever has before. This in itself makes AON, and other network-oriented technologies with similar goals, compelling IT directions.


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