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Cisco announces Etch, an alternative to SOAP

By Jim Duffy on Fri, 05/23/08 - 2:56pm.

Cisco this week announced plans for a new messaging protocol that integrates client/server applications. It is billed as an easier-to-use alternative to SOAP that also creates less overhead, reports a story from CIO published yesterday. The protocol, named Etch, was discussed in conjunction with the new 2.5 release of the Cisco Unified Application Environment (CUAE). CIO reports that Etch is scheduled to become a beta release sometime this summer.

Etch came into being to enable new functionality in CUAE 2.5, but Cisco execs are now promoting the protocol for more general  inter-application communications use. The story is that SOAP relies on a complicated WSDL file to define the interface between the client and server, which makes it a pain to use, and it can bog an app down with overhead. Cisco executives promise that Etch won't cause developers or the network to suffer likewise because Etch uses a file in Cisco's interface definition language (IDL) that is similar to a Java interface file. Cisco promises to release Etch under an open-source license, though hasn't decided which one (and is leaning away from the GPL). Cisco is also toying with idea of trotting Etch over to one of the international standards bodies to give it some industry oomph that way. The body would most likely be the IETF, where Cisco is a power player.

Blogger Steve Vinoski posted some interesting, and unfavorable analysis about Etch. His objections include skepticism that Cisco really solved the inevitable mapping issues that seem to occur with IDLs and the fact that so-called performance improvements quoted by Cisco do not take into consideration that the bottleneck is usually somewhere other than the protocol. He concludes by saying:

"Or, to put it another way: Etch is really just adding more stuff to be developed, tested, deployed, managed, maintained, and integrated, yet it doesn't’t actually solve any new problems or solve any old problems better than what already exists."

Readers of Vinoski's blog point out that many alternatives already exist to SOAP. Not including older technologies such as CORBA or EJB, they pointed to Apache's Thrift project, ZeroC ICE and even older projects like Sun RPC (circa 1988). But the bigger issue Vinoski and his readers say, is the idea that RPCs, while trendy in 1988, are not necessarily the best way to go about app integration in 2008. This makes a new entry in the field by Cisco a curious expenditure of energy on Cisco's part. These programmers prefer an architectural style approach, such as REST (Representational State Transfer).

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