It’s an XML world

XML is taking over the world as we know it, having become the foundation for almost all of today’s Web services and most service-oriented architectures. XML is not a technology per se; it’s a programming language that supports developers devising their own custom tags for Web information. This allows that information to be shared by XML-aware applications that can interpret the tags and organize the data accordingly.

Recently, we’ve seen a spate of watershed XML-related events:

  • Microsoft announced the next version of Microsoft Office, code-named Office 12, will have XML as its native file format. Say goodbye to .ppt, .doc and .xls. These “default” XML file formats are designed as an extension of the Word­pro­cess­ingML and SpreadsheetML schemas and will be interoperable with the binary formats of Office 2000 and later.
  • Intel bought start-up Sarvega, an early proponent of XML switching. Sarvega created its own operating system for efficiently processing, accelerating, securing and maintaining XML traffic. This acquisition will bring the power of Sarvega’s XML heritage to Intel’s product line. This XML overlay will transform the processing of XML traffic at its most basic and fundamental level.
  • Cisco launched its Application Oriented Networking (AON) platform in June.  AON is a real application switching platform in that it not only supports XML, but also non-XML network applications such as database applications, voice, video, file sharing and instant messaging.
  • Companies such as Datapower and Reactivity continue to stoke up wins with their XML appliance, network and software products. We’ve seen XML-aware products move from server appliances to server blades to software and soon to more basic levels.

People have always talked about how application switching is the natural evolution from XML switching, and that application switching ultimately will be swallowed up by the router makers. But actually getting to the point where the router makers are putting XML switching in their systems, Intel is building XML accelerating and securing software, and Microsoft is converting age-tested document formats to XML - this says XML switching has arrived, and you’d better take notice.

The problem with XML is finding out who owns this market. Look at the above examples, and you’ve got a WAN network player, a software player and a chip manufacturer all heading in a similar direction.

So what’s a company to do about this? Well, the moves in software and applications are scarcely a surprise, but the network moves need your attention. The impact of XML switching - including acceleration and security - will take some figuring out. The problem is that many organizations already use prioritized switching for QoS for technologies such as VoIP,  and use XML only in isolated ways, pending the Microsoft onslaught at the mass desktop level. You’ll find your CRM kicking out XML files to the branches, the finance department conforming to government XML guidelines, and even marketing toying with XML templates for partner and channel communications. This is one of those areas where the topic is so threaded throughout your organization that you have to do research to figure out what you’re dealing with.

The problem is likely a little worse than that. Those who have been thinking about it might be in your data center or owners of specific applications. Now that this is hitting the network industry square in the face, you might find you have some internal catch-up to do. There are many architectural decisions to make. You need to decide among general-purpose servers and software (now including Intel); server appliances (Re­activity, Sarvega); high-end application servers (IBM, BEA); dedicated chips and subsystems for embedding (DataPower, Tarari, potentially Intel); network devices (Cisco, DataPower); or even outsourcing to a managed service provider.

So check out AON. Call Sarvega. Find out about DataPower. There’s enough experience now with the earlier adopters to project where your XML weak spots are going to be as your organization scales with XML.

Briere is CEO of TeleChoice, a market strategy consultancy for the telecom industry. He can be reached at telecomcatalyst@telechoice.com.

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