XML device could reduce XML-related bottlenecks

DataPower Technology Inc. this week released an upgraded version of its XML appliance, aimed at helping companies reduce network bottlenecks associated with securing and transporting XML documents.

The XA35 XML Accelerator 2.0 offers compression and security handling features, in addition to its core XML parsing and processing capabilities. Specifically, the 1U-high rack-mountable network device can handle Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) acceleration, eliminating the need for users to maintain separate devices for handling XML encryption, DataPower says.

Its built-in compression capabilities can reduce the size of an XML document by as much as 90 per cent, DataPower says.

Compression is key when it comes to XML, which has a reputation for being a bandwidth hog because of its text-based, self-describing format. XML documents can be from three to 20 times larger than a comparable binary or alternate text file representation, according to research firm ZapThink. To combat XML’s overhead, DataPower and competitors such as Forum Systems and Sarvega have devised appliances designed to offload XML processing from traditional servers, which can get bogged down translating and routing XML documents.

Version 2.0 also features two 1Gbps ports, in place of four 10/100Mbps ports included in the first version.

DataPower added SSL and Gigabit Ethernet support so that companies could divert more processing chores to the XA35, which sits behind a firewall and in front of Web and application servers, freeing up server CPUs and reducing network bottlenecks, says Eugene Kuznetsov, president and CTO at DataPower.

“XML has tremendous business benefits – it cuts costs, makes it possible to be more flexible and support multiple devices, and allows easy integration with trading partners – but it has certain problems. Performance is one of them,” he says.

One of the first companies to deploy DataPower’s upgraded appliance is teleconferencing services provider Leader Technologies. The Columbus, Ohio, company offers low-rate teleconferencing services that start at just over US$0.09 per minute. Leader can afford to offer such low rates in part because it has users set up and manage their own conference calls via the Web – eliminating the need for Leader to provide human staff for these tasks, says Jeff R. Lamb, CTO at Leader. Leader’s Web-based conference-calling platform is based on XML.

As users set up or modify conference call settings, the application transforms generic XML documents, using an Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT) process, on the fly, into HTML. The HTML code then renders a client interface geared for devices such as desktops, mobile phones and PDAs, Lamb says.

The XA35 2.0 speeds processing of the XML-to-HTML transformations. Before Leader deployed the XA35, it was taking too much time and CPU power to render client interfaces, Lamb says.

Leader had tried multiple optimization techniques, including caching database objects and transactions. “The biggest bottleneck we had left was the actual CPU cycles it took to do this transform,” Lamb says.

With the XA35, Leader has reduced response times from 4 seconds to about one-third of a second – a twelvefold increase in performance, he says.

The DataPower appliance also lets Leader increase scalability without investing in new servers. By offloading SSL encryption to the XA35, “our servers don’t have to deal with any of that expensive CPU encryption and decryption stuff,” Lamb says.

The net result is a fifteenfold increase in scalability, he says. “The only other way we could have solved the scalability problem was to have thrown a ton of hardware at it – a cost-prohibitive mountain of hardware to have been able to simultaneously support the number of users that we wanted,” Lamb says.

The XA35 XML Accelerator 2.0 is available now. Pricing starts at US$35,000.