It’s time for XML (and more!) in your network

As you have no doubt been hearing (at least in bits and pieces), there’s a big move within the networks of your enterprise customers towards application-aware switching and networking. Application switching is not happening as one big paradigm-shifting overnight revolution, but it is revolutionary, and it is coming towards as a series of smaller steps forward.

As you have no doubt been hearing (at least in bits and pieces), there's a big move within the networks of your enterprise customers towards application -aware switching and networking. Application switching is not happening as one big paradigm-shifting overnight revolution, but it is revolutionary, and it is coming towards as a series of smaller steps forward.

The first place we are seeing application switching enter the market is in the realm of XML. XML will soon become ubiquitous in the enterprise for no other reason than the fact that the next iteration of Microsoft Office will rely upon XML as a file format - moving away from today's ".ppt" , ".xls" and ".doc" formats. XML is already increasingly common for other enterprise applications, and particularly whenever a Web-based application or Web service touches the enterprise (not to mention the rise of XML-based syndication feeds for all sorts of new other data services.

Microsoft is not the only enterprise vendor getting serious about XML. Intel, for example, just placed a bet on XML and the importance of XML- and application-awareness when it purchased XML appliance vendor, Sarvega . All of a sudden the leading desktop and server vendor - not to mention a primary vendor of network processors - is bringing XML into its software fold. Intel has the reach to bring XML-awareness to just about all levels of the network - just as Centrino has helped spread 802.11, and as Intel’s WiMAX efforts are working to boost that technology.

Independent vendors of XML "switches," like DataPower, are building (and selling to enterprise customers) a whole range of XML acceleration, security and switching devices. Look at the customer lists of some of the independent XML appliance vendors to get an idea of the scale and scope of deployments that are in production now in a variety of IT-centric enterprises (like many major financial houses).

And perhaps most importantly, Cisco's launch of the application-oriented networking (AON) platform earlier this summer put the biggest and most important networking vendor for enterprises firmly on the side of XML (any application, really) switching in the enterprise – and no doubt in the service provider's network as well.

If application switching is coming, what's the impact for a carrier? What the heck does an XML file format on a enterprise user's PC really mean to a service provider anyway?

Well we haven't got any quick and easy answers - but it's time to start thinking.

For example, are there opportunities to a service provider who can offer managed XML-aware services? Is application-aware switching something that will be core to an enterprise's mission, or something that they will want to have "take care of" for them? For many enterprises, we think the answer from an enterprise will be "please help us take care of this!" -  not "we don't need your help."

At the same time, all of the vendor integration of XML awareness into appliances that are easy to "drop into" the network (and indeed further into routers and network processors and perhaps even PCs themselves)  can be a threat as well as an opportunity. It's not hard to imagine application switching to be yet another service that a customer will try to do without the help of (and revenues to) the carrier.

In the longer term, application awareness means more than just switching certain types of XML packets to certain locations - it means application-awareness and true QoS for all types of traffic. And it won't just be on the enterprise side of things - imagine a consumer grade connection that's able to move beyond today's labels and port assignments and to actually intelligently route and prioritize traffic.

Well that day is coming. Microsoft is talking with its actions. So is Intel. And so is Cisco. If you've got a network with customers on it - particularly enterprise customers - it's time for you to start paying attention.. Time to start figuring out how to make your network and your services "XML-friendly."  Time to start figuring out what XML switching and its successors means to you and your network. And more importantly, what it means for your customers.

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