As IT systems grow overburdened from processing huge XML documents and high volumes of Web services traffic, application efficiency is suffering. That is why some analysts view IBM's acquisition of DataPower, a provider of XML accelerator appliances, as a significant addition to its WebSphere line.
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"For IBM, this deal is very significant for a couple of reasons," said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink, LLC, an IT advisory and analysis firm in Waltham, MA, that specializes in XML and Web services. "Primarily, it adds a product to the WebSphere line that fills the gap around performance optimization. Previously, you could achieve this type of performance with just WebSphere, but that was very inefficient. Why use six application servers when you can have one box?"
In the past, attempts to speed up these XML processes via software have not been tremendously successful. But DataPower's devices accomplish this by moving the XML processing out of the application server, where traditionally much of the work has been done.
The other issue that the DataPower boxes resolve is in the area of content-based routing. For traditional routers (and firewalls), the content of packets passing through didn't matter. It was, as Schmelzer puts it, "a question of one Web page versus another, a simple matter of which IP address was being accessed."
Encrypt, parse, jam
But as XML becomes a dominant protocol for connecting disparate systems, the verbosity and redundancy of XML syntax can slow the processing of XML documents. This is why in the area of XML and Web services, content – or the message body – does matter. "What matters is that people should not be jamming stupid things into the message body, like a request to shut down the portal," Schmelzer said. "Plus, that message body can be very complex to process—you have to encrypt it, you have to parse it, and it can be very long. Some XML documents can be gigabytes," he noted.
Another positive effort of the DataPower boxes will be to offload some of the responsibility of the developer to be totally vigilant. The DataPower appliances can strip out nefarious XML-related code allowed in due to vulnerabilities in developers' programs. "Essentially, they allow XML developers to build what they want, and then the developers can count on these intermediary devices to protect themselves," Schmelzer said.
According to IBM, the rationale behind its acquisition of Cambridge, Mass.-based DataPower was to help companies improve the performance, security and management of business processes built of reusable, open-standards-based software components. This increasingly popular approach, called Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), combines business operations with IT. According to research firm Gartner, SOA will provide the basis for 80% of new software development projects by 2008.
"With more companies taking a modular approach to running business processes through an SOA, there's a greater need for technology to deal with the commensurate increases in Web services traffic, which can overburden IT systems," said Robert LeBlanc, general manager, WebSphere, IBM Software Group, in a statement. "DataPower's products address these challenges."
IBM said it plans to introduce a family of SOA appliances based on DataPower technology. DataPower products include the XI50 Integration Device, which streamlines SOA infrastructures; the XA35 XML Accelerator, which offloads XML processing; and the XS40 XML Security Gateway, which helps provide message-level Web services security. DataPower security features complement the SOA security management capabilities of IBM's Tivoli software.
The deal is also expected to impact the other vendors in this space, such as Cisco Systems. DataPower is the second XML-networking company to be acquired in the past two months. In mid-August, Sarvega was acquired by Intel, but as Schmelzer noted, "Intel was not really planning on selling tons of Sarvega boxes. What this will do is force IBM's competitors, such as BEA, Oracle and Sun, to start thinking about adding performance optimization to their story."
The acquisition, Schmelzer said, "shows the market is consolidating, and through 2006, you'll see a lot more consolidation in this area."