In my last post, which was about the fab book Network Algorithmics, I mentioned intelligent in-network appliances. I also mentioned that "the world doesn't need to be all hardware or all software".
I believe this to be an essential point - blending rapidly improving commodity hardware with a just a touch of custom ASIC/FPGA components, glued together by a low level architecture aware systems programming approach makes unbelievably good products that can be made an produced relatively inexpensively.
These appliances and hardware are rapidly showing up everywhere - Tony Bourke of Load Balancing digest makes a similar (why choose between ASIC or Software?) post today. Read it.