Where ever you look in the industry, there is a new trend that is driving research and development of the next step in the ladder of abstraction in computer science. You only have to scratch the surface of household buzzwords like SOA, Web 2.0, Grid Computing, Virtualization, On-Demand, Utility Computing and (of course) Application Overlay Networks or AONs to realize that these trends are nothing more than a layer of abstraction over everything that is being done today.
Start with SOA, it is a layer of abstraction on top of currently dominant programming paradigms. At this new layer, one has to independent of Language, the underlying hosting environment, the underlying data model and inter and intra application communication protocol. You are seeing XML driven data models take hold on top of a hosting environment that is supports platform independent interfaces and the interfaces themselves are described in a platform and language independent fashion.
Look at Web 2.0 abstracts the web tooling to a level where the underlying platform becomes the whole internet and not just a datacenter. The run-time of this new trend is a catalog of web services that are exposed on the internet and the client side hosting environment is the browser. Most of the problems in this space actually has to do with the fact that the network programming is still stuck at the socket level of abstraction.
Grid Computing abstracts a unit of computation to a new level where it is totally independent of underlying CPU and IO architecture. Its cousing utility computing tries to do the same on the economics of computing by trying to find a pricing model that actually correlates a customer's SLA with his/her use of the underlying infrastructure.
Virtualization and On-Demand who can claim to be the progenitors of all the subsequent abstraction trends (and actually the only ones making money) aim to abstract into software all the necessary and sufficient characteristics of the underlying hardware. On-Demand actually focusses more on management.
Finally, coming to AONs, this is the new abstraction layer at which tomorrow's network needs to operate at . The article on "The New Network Switch" does a good job of summarizing the AONs which is what Sun's xCEO referred to as the "Big Freakin Web Tone Switch".