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Cisco fans 'fire' in SOA appliance market

Cisco's purchase of Reactivity this week reflects the processing and security demands SOA is putting on the traditional network, which is fueling demand for XML appliances, vendors say.

Rather than feeling threatened by the competition, other vendors in the emerging XML appliance market see the Cisco Systems Inc. purchase of Reactivity Inc., this week as validation of the technology they champion.

The market is on fire.
Eugene Kuznetsov
Director of SOA AppliancesIBM

The demands service-oriented architecture applications put on the traditional hardware network are driving customers to buy hardware that can speed processing of XML in Web services, and provide security, vendors and analysts say.

"As a legitimization of XML appliances as a category of product for SOA and Web 2.0, it certainly gives the thumbs up," said Dimitri Sirota, vice president and co-founder of Layer 7 Technologies Inc. As one of the few appliance vendors that has not yet been acquired, he added, "That's certainly encouraging for us because there are only a limited number of vendors in the space."

Both the market for the appliances and the market for the startup vendors who pioneered the technology is hot.

Calling Cisco's purchase of Reactivity for $135 million "a strong play in the emerging SOA and Web services infrastructure market" Robert Whiteley, senior analyst for enterprise networking at Forrester Research, Inc., notes that it follows other recent acquisitions in the appliance market. "In the last few years we've seen acquisitions from IBM [buying] Data Power and Intel [buying] Sarvega."

Eugene Kuznetsov, DataPower co-founder and formerly its CTO, and now director of SOA appliances at IBM, said, "The market is on fire." This past November, IBM reported that the DataPower's XML hardware accelerators, now re-branded as WebSphere DataPower SOA Appliances, scored 40 new customer wins in the year's third fiscal quarter. Early this month, sources at Reactivity had said the company had record sales in its two most recent quarters. In the competitive, but somewhat secretive XML appliance market, Layer 7's Sirota said his company's sales are also strong.

What's driving this hot market?

Kuznetsov answered, "The big driver is the same as we were talking about six or seven years ago, which is simplifying the infrastructure, integrating functions into a hardware appliance that is cheap and easy to operate."

The complexity and risk inherent in hooking up systems in an SOA environment is "daunting," he said, and the appliances help with the tasks that software cannot handle as well. He says appliances are the answer to questions customers contemplating SOA are asking of their vendors. "How do I deal with security? How do I deal with the complexity? How do I know that my service levels are going to be correct?"

"Appliances are just a real good way of solving those problems," Kuznetsov said.

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Sirota agreed saying whatever the speculation about Cisco's need to beef up its networking products for the SOA world, "At a minimum what this does is show there is a need to address XML security, performance and governance issues. Devices and appliances with specialized technology to address the overhead of XML is a good vehicle for that."

Looking at the appliance market from the outside, Hugh Taylor, vice president for marketing communications at SOA Software, Inc., a vendor of SOA and Web services management, security, mediation and run-time governance software products, said the Cisco deal reflects both the maturity of SOA and the security risks engendered by it.

"With every advance in technology comes an advance in shenanigans by troublemakers," he said. "Now that XML and SOAP and Web services are more prevalent, we're seeing an upsurge in attacks. If last year's problem was the SQL injection. This year's problem is the XML injection."

SOA implementations have increased network requirements for reliability and security, Taylor said. "Once you start deploying Web services in an SOA mode, the reliability of the Web services and security become very reliant on the network. If you're Cisco, you cannot be offering security if you're just passing XML through the network without any filtering. You have to be able to get inside the SOAP to the XML itself and detect attacks."

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