Cisco Systems Inc. has today launched Application Oriented Networking, or AON, which Cisco claims will make computer networks smarter, faster and more secure. It does this, apparently, by making the equipment that directs data link better with the software applications that use it. Basically, several functions that today are performed by various middleware products (middleware is software) will instead be put directly onto the network. AON will be able to, for example, increase security by determining whether a particular purchase order is indeed a valid order from a true customer, and so forth.

Research firm Gartner estimates the overall advanced application market -- which includes messaging, integration, application acceleration, Web services, security and other fields -- could be worth as much as $7 billion in four years time.

Cisco said that its slice of that market -- messaging and integration -- will be 10 percent with new products introduced later in 2005, climbing to 20 percent and more as it introduces more products and as AON evolves and is adopted by the industry.

"There is a growing need for this from a technology point of view," said Sandra Rogers, an analyst at market research firm IDC, noting, however, that these so-called service-oriented architectures will take years to develop fully.

The actual AON products are thin devices that stack like books in a shelf.