Switching on XML

As XML-based Web services continue to evolve, a new category of XML-aware data routers is emerging that could smooth out Web services transactions. These devices act as intermediaries at the network edge, reading, interpreting and acting upon embedded XML content in order to provide services such as priority routing, filtering, acceleration, authentication and encryption.

By enhancing data movement between Web-based applications and databases, these devices may help companies communicate more effectively with partners, employees and customers.

These XML routers consist of a group of related devices variously described as application data routers (ADR), XML acceleration appliances or XML switches. The first such devices appeared in May. About 10 start-ups are offering or developing XML routers, and analysts say interest is building among the big router vendors.

Greg Howard, principal analyst at The HTRC Group LLC in San Andreas, Calif., defines XML routing as one function of ADR. These devices perform routing at the application layer and can incorporate switching based on XML content, but they may also support other database and application protocols.

The goal, he says, is to interpret XML content to enhance security and provide "content-aware" switching and acceleration services. ADRs can automate updates between different corporate databases when a user makes a transaction, Howard says.

Hemscott PLC in London is beta-testing Cambridge, Mass.-based DataPower Technology Inc.'s XA35 XML Accelerator to speed database transactions.

The financial information provider posts news about large European companies in an Oracle database for Web distribution. Using the XA35, it has reduced the time it takes to make data conversions to XML from about 25 seconds to one second, says Stephen Roche, Hemscott's chief technology officer.

3Com Corp. subsidiary CommWorks Corp. in Rolling Meadows, Ill., uses an XPE 2000 intelligent XML switch from Sarvega Inc. to automate customer support and ultimately reduce costs. The switch replaced the manual work and custom development necessary to process customer trouble reports, says Chandru Bolaki, technical director at CommWorks.

Support staffers used to process hundreds of outgoing e-mail and phone messages every day. The reports can now be transmitted automatically by voice, Short Messaging Service or e-mail.

Setting Priorities

John Chirapurath, co-founder and vice president of marketing at Burr Ridge, Ill.-based Sarvega, says the XPE switch can prioritize XML data to help give more vital transactions greater priority.

ADRs can be used in any organization that's deploying XML-based applications, whether for Web commerce or internal needs, says Mark Seery, an analyst at RHK Inc. in South San Francisco, Calif. Heavy-duty transactions such as airline booking or enterprise resource planning would be good candidates, he says.

Chirapurath says he has seen interest in the financial services, manufacturing and health care sectors.

Howard says an ADR can work as an application layer proxy, functioning as a translator that converts requests to an XML schema based on a given database and then retrieving and returning information in the requesting format.

Howard predicts that ADR will become more function-specific, catering to the needs of, say, human resources or other areas.

Seery says he expects the technology to be incorporated into existing load balancers. And in a little more than a year, he says, a new generation of ADRs that use programmable application-specific integrated circuits will arrive, potentially lowering costs.

At US$50,000 and up, the devices currently represent a significant IT investment. Nonetheless, the ADR market could grow quite large, says Howard. But at this stage, says Seery, it's too early to tell.

Start-ups Drive XML Router Market

All of the vendors developing XML switches today are start-ups, and only a few of them are shipping products. They include the following:

Sarvega Inc.Burr Ridge, DataPower Technology Inc and Metapa Inc.

Vendors with security-related offerings include Forum Systems Inc.and Hitachi Computer Products (America) Inc..

Other vendors have research and development projects under way but haven't announced any products, says HTRC Group analyst Greg Howard.

Vendors to watch include Bang Networks Inc. in San Francisco; Flamenco Networks Inc. in Alpharetta, Ga.; Grand Central Communications Inc. in San Francisco; Kenamea Inc. in San Francisco; KnowNow Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif.; Slam Dunk Networks Inc. in Redwood Shores, Calif.; and Swingtide Inc. in Portsmouth, N.H.

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