XML offloading on the upswing

Enterprise XML traffic is booming and companies had better begin looking at ways to tame the XML beast before it overwhelms their networks, experts say.

XML traffic accounted for approximately 15 per cent of overall enterprise network traffic in 2004, estimates Waltham, Mass.-based IT advisory firm ZapThink. But by 2008, ZapThink forecasts XML will grow to 48 per cent of overall network traffic.

“A lot of people have been throwing bandwidth at the problem and thinking that’s going to fix it,” said Bob Hafner, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy Gartner. “We’re finding once you start getting into organizations that have global operations, throwing bandwidth at the problem isn’t good enough.”

Enterprises seeking relief for their XML traffic woes can turn to a variety of companies selling appliances designed to offload XML processing from servers.

In the near future, they may also be able to turn to service providers.

Carrier services

Last year, Allstream became the first Canadian provider to announce an XML network service, set to launch this year. While other providers do offer XML appliances as part of their managed services offerings, Allstream’s service will rely on network-resident routers, rather than customer-premise-based XML appliances, to offload XML traffic. The XML service would operate as an overlay of Allstream’s national Multi-protocol Label Switching network, says Sandra Jones, director of strategic marketing and technologies for Allstream.

The XML network service will be ideal for any enterprise operating an XML-based publish and subscribe service, Jones says.

“The network manager doesn’t have to worry about sending information to lists,” she says. “The people who need the information will get it.”

The XML service would also be useful for handling Radio Frequency Identification tags, which can generate huge amounts of XML data, Jones notes.

The technology for Allstream’s XML service comes from Solace Systems, an Ottawa-based firm that’s financially backed by Wesley Clover, an investment management firm with ties to Newbridge founder Terry Matthews.

Solace’s XML router, the XCR 3200, is built to service provider requirements, so it can integrate with carrier billing systems and scale to a large amount of traffic, says Peter Ashton, Solace’s vice-president of product management and marketing.

Solace is working with a number of service providers in North America and Europe, Ashton notes, although Allstream is the firm’s only public customer.

By tying XML to an MPLS network, enterprises can dig down into messages and classify traffic based on message content.

“So, for example, you could say all purchase orders over $5 million get number one priority,” Ashton says.

Enterprise appliances

Many enterprises are already doing their own XML acceleration by installing dedicated XML appliances at their data centres. A number of vendors including DataPower and Sarvega make boxes that speed the security and routing of XML messages.

Bell Canada, which has offered XML appliances as part of its managed enterprise services since the summer of 2004, has seen growing demand for XML offloading, says Ronald Ross, chief security strategist with Bell. XML traffic is automatically diverted to the appliances, Ross noted. Most applications don’t require any modifications to get routed to the appliances instead of to Web servers.

Perhaps the best barometer of XML routing’s popularity is the fact that Cisco Systems has expressed interest in the market. Cisco CTO Charles Giancarlo has said the networking giant is interested in technology that speeds up XML traffic processing for Web services.

There isn’t a lot of difference between what the enterprise XML appliances and carrier-class XML routers do, notes Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst with ZapThink. While one is aimed at the carrier market and one at the enterprise, they’re both designed to speed up XML traffic.

“Instead of just looking at the packets and figuring where they should go based on the header or the IP address, they’re actually looking into the message itself to see how the message should be secured, where it should go, how it should be prioritized,” he says.

Ultimately the difference could come down to economics and control. If enterprises don’t want to manage the XML themselves, they might go with a carrier offering. If they have the staff to manage the XML appliances, they might be more inclined to set up their own appliances in-house. 058337

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