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Network World - 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."
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."