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XML acceleration, security stay hot in SOA

The market for intelligent network appliances is expected to swell as Web services prototypes move to production.

With Web services deployments going from prototype to production, XML security and acceleration issues have moved to the front burner. Despite heavyweights IBM and Cisco Systems Inc. capitalizing on this need by entering the XML appliance space -- IBM most recently scooping up DataPower Technology Inc. -- Forum Systems Inc. is betting there's more opportunity to be had with this week's launch of its Forum Vantage XML Accelerator.

 The security infrastructure is changing, networking gear is changing, middleware infrastructure is changing.
Walid Negm
Vice President of MarketingForum Systems

"XML can consume up to 50 times more bandwidth than traditional binary messaging protocols. It can drag down interapplication performance. Just to process it can be harrowing," said Walid Negm, vice president of marketing at Forum Systems, Salt Lake City.

Until now, Forum has concentrated its efforts on XML security.

"The security infrastructure is changing, networking gear is changing, middleware infrastructure is changing," Negm said. "We see this as a great opportunity for Forum to expand in other spaces, hence the XML Accelerator."

However, Negm stressed that acceleration has been part of its Forum Sentry SOA Gateway and Forum XWall Web Services Firewall all along. "XML acceleration has been the underpinning for our attack and trust [products], so we've been accelerating transactions for our customers as bread-and-butter type functionality. Previously, we wanted to focus our energies on security, but now this is good timing for us."

According to Michael Gavin, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., "This market is poised to take off much more so than it has so far."

As organizations have been putting Web services deployments into production over the last year, "there are security issues and acceleration issues with XML taking up so much bandwidth," Gavin said. "People know they need an XML appliance. Middleware solutions don't offer same the acceleration and security benefits these products do."

XML appliances are "a class of service intermediary," said Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst at ZapThink LLC in Waltham, Mass. "All these appliances, as well as offerings from vendors like Blue Titan, are really an alternative to the middleware approach to SOA infrastructure that ESB vendors are [taking]. A lot of middleware vendors are trying to come up with new ways to sell old middleware. That's not the right approach to building an agile SOA infrastructure."

In contrast, he said, "an intelligent intermediary approach is more flexible. It relies on the network you already have, and you can have as many intermediaries as you need. You can have an enterprise-class SOA infrastructure without the need for an ESB."

Forum's Vantage XML Accelerator leverages a 64-bit platform architecture and Forum's Hermes parser to accelerate XML/SOAP parsing, XML schema validation, XPath processing and XSLT transformation functions. According to the company, it enables more than 10,000 XML messages per second.

Unlike some competitors in this space, Forum's products are available in multiple form factors: software, PCI-card and appliance. Offering both hardware and software versions "opens it up to different potential customers and partners," Bloomberg said. And, he added, "they have the threat protection angle other that appliances don't emphasize. This is Forum's core strength."

For more information

Read how IBM gets XML muscle with DataPower acquisition

Learn how Cisco's AON speaks language of applications

Negm said Forum reached its first profitable month in October, and expects to close the year at around $10 million in revenue. "Revenue has dramatically increased for us," he said. "We see about a $50 million pipeline for us. We actually think DataPower sold out too early."

Forrester's Gavin said he agrees with Negm. "Some people have been surprised that the big players jumped in so soon," he said. "Forum has been a main leader in this space for some time, along with DataPower and Reactivity. People who are buying these types of products know them [Forum] well."

Forum Vantage XML Accelerator is available now as an appliance; pricing starts at $45,000. It complies with government requirements, including FIPS certification, Common Criteria EAL 4+ and JITC DoD PKI certification.

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