Vendors to target XML traffic jam

Looking to help customers rein in the growing traffic created by XML and Web services applications, a slew of vendors are developing gigabit-speed silicon that ultimately might be found in equipment throughout corporate networks.

Looking to help customers rein in the growing traffic created by XML and Web services applications, a slew of vendors are developing gigabit-speed silicon that ultimately might be found in equipment throughout corporate networks.

DataPower, maker of XML security and acceleration appliances, next week will introduce its XG4 family of silicon-based XML engines, which handle XML at higher speed and can be embedded into switches, routers, storage devices, load balancers and servers.

Also next week, Intel spinoff Tarari will upgrade its silicon-based XML Content Processor PCI-cards with its proprietary Random Access XML (RAX) technology for gigabit-speed processing of XML. Within a year, Tarari plans to put the technology on an ASIC.

Start-up Conformative Systems plans to release by year-end its first ASIC and hardware combination for XML processing at gigabit speed in data centers. The company says it eventually will release its ASIC on a PCI card.

Experts say corporate networks will need to incorporate "XML awareness" into everything from routers and switches to servers and blades to storage devices and access control points, because XML messages demand huge chunks of processing power.

They need that power to parse and decipher extensions for features such as routing, security, encryption, management and process workflow. Silicon appears to be the logical way to make that happen, according to the experts.

"A gigabit is just the table stakes for embedding something in network infrastructure," says Eugene Kuznetsov, founder and CTO of DataPower. "Users want XML to run at wire speed."

Silicon is the solution

Today, vendors such as DataPower, Forum Systems, Layer 7 Technologies, Reactivity, Sarvega, Vordel and Westbridge provide dedicated hardware, appliances or software to speed the transformation, schema validation, routing and security of XML messages.

Tarari and Conformative tackle the problem with silicon, and more-traditional network vendors, such as Computer Associates and Foundry Networks, also are adding capabilities to take on XML chores.

Research by IBM Labs shows that even small XML-based documents can increase the CPU cost of a relational database transaction by up to 10 times in the absence of a dedicated XML processing engine. The research concluded that XML parsing could have a "potentially fatal impact" on high-performance, transaction-oriented database applications that use XML.

Research firm ZapThink says XML is expected to account for more than 25% of network traffic by 2006, up from just less than 2% today.

"The flood of XML-based network traffic is something to look at in 2004, something to worry about in 2005 and something to lose your job over in 2006," says Frank Dzubeck, president and CEO of Communications Network Architects, an industry analysis firm.

"Everything is moving toward XML, it's business traffic, it's something that is no longer the exception, it is the rule," he says.

Today, dedicated appliances aggregate and process XML traffic, but in the near future specialized silicon will spread XML duties throughout the network, experts say.

The evolution is a natural one in that it follows a well-worn path that has seen CPU-intensive tasks move from the application layer to the networking layer. Examples include routing, load balancing and encryption/decryption for Secure Sockets Layer.

"We use Web services all over the place and XML is quickly becoming the lingua franca of messaging," says Taruvaj Subramaniam, chief architect for RouteOne, a joint venture formed by DaimlerChrysler Services, Ford Motor Credit Company, GMAC and Toyota Financial Services to provide a Web-based credit application-management system for automobile dealers and the auto finance industry. Today, Subramaniam uses DataPower's XS40 XML Security Gateway appliance to process digital signatures attached to XML messages, but he suspects in the future that his entire network infrastructure will have to understand XML.

"I used to parse HTTP-Post messages but I don't do that today, the infrastructure does that for you. I suspect that will happen in the XML world also," Subramaniam says. "I really only need to deal with the business part of the XML message payload, and all the other stuff should go into the infrastructure."

Where will it go?

The big question is where in the infrastructure that will be, according to Tom Rhinelander, an analyst with New Rowley Group.

"No one really understands where this is going, but these vendors are making it so any system can process XML," he says.

That's the idea behind DataPower's DXE chip, which performs XML schema validation, XPath queries and security operations. DXE will be available next week to OEMs on PCI and PMC cards, and on PCI-X this summer, the company says. The goal is to push DXE and its related firmware and drivers into switches, security appliances, blade servers, load balancers, and storage and virtualization devices.

"We are talking about broader XML processing," DataPower's Kuznetsov says. "We see ourselves as the XML-aware networking sub-system vendor."

Tarari has similar thoughts with its RAX Content Processor, a silicon-based processing engine on a PCI card that plugs into servers, appliances or network devices. RAX defines a process for quickly dissecting XML messages that Tarari will submit to the World Wide Web Consortium for review as a standard and alternative to the existing XML parsing standards Document Object Model and Simple API for XML.

"We're not a proxy model like the appliance vendors; we are a component model that can be used in the big-guy switches," says John Bromhead, Tarari's vice president of marketing.

Major vendors Cisco, F5 Networks and Nortel, say they are watching. Foundry last month announced two high-powered ServerIron switches that include XML tag switching, a first cut at XML traffic control.

"We are not working on any particular XML acceleration today, but we could absolutely do that," says Chandra Kopparapu, vice president of multi-layer switches at Foundry.

Conformative's CSXi server appliance, slated to ship later this year, features a proprietary ASIC that processes XML at a throughput beyond 1G bit/sec. CSXi is aimed at data centers, and Conformative plans to put its ASIC on a PCI card.

"XML is going to move up the priority list of what has to be processed; and the ability of sub-systems, such as storage, networking, application servers and security, to process XML efficiently will become critical," says John Derrick, CEO of Conformative.

Competitors also are thinking how they will adapt.

"We'd be well served to have the ability to OEM our technology," says Girish Juneja, co-founder of Sarvega, which builds its XML appliances using its proprietary Xesos operating system.

Experts say convergence between infrastructure gear and XML is inevitable.

"You just can't take XML and drop it into the network as a separate layer, the XML network becomes embedded in the existing infrastructure," says Randy Heffner, an analyst at Forrester Research.

"For example, management needs separate XML capabilities but that could be integrated with HP OpenView, Computer Associates, Tivoli," he adds.

CA has integrated DataPower's security gateway into its Unicenter Web Services Distributed Management platform and its eTrust family of products. The company is working on integration with Forum and Reactivity.

"We don't think Web services and XML processing will be handled by a single box; there will be many processing points," says Dmitri Tcherevik, vice president of Web services for CA.

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