IBM followed up its recent purchase of cloud integration appliance maker Cast Iron with new versions of its CloudBurst and DataPower appliances. Taken together, the products may augur a shift back to the bundled hardware-software offerings that drove an earlier computing era.
"IT is being spread thin by upgrades," said David Torissi, Director of Managed and Cloud Services at SOA systems integrator Ultramatics. "Generally, you will see a lot of software going toward appliances."
Lengthy, complicated and resource-intensive modern software configurations are key factors driving the apparent uptick in appliances. The appliances are adding capabilities as use cases dictate, to include message brokering, data transformation, process orchestration and other traits.
IBM's CloudBurst, introduced last year as a pizza box with ready-stored virtual images and configuration patterns for private cloud development, now includes environments required to automate and choreograph business processes and services. The new version of the DataPower appliance - which began life variously described as an XML accelerator, network proxy or gateway - adds object data caching support.
In the cases of Cast Iron, CloudBurst and DataPower, the trend shows basic elements of middleware and SOA being packaged so that businesses can move more quickly to field new applications.
Others among the small handful of XML gateway makers have lately moved to add functionality to their application-specific boxes, broadening what is covered by the term 'application specific.' The inclusion of the dynamic data cache service in the new WebSphere DataPower XC10 appliance shows that scaling, session management and database burdens are ready for the dedicated hardware treatment.
This broadening of DataPower is significant, according to Jerry Cuomo, IBM Fellow, Vice President and WebSphere CTO.
"Before, the center of gravity was around connectivity – a 'bump on the wire,'" said Cuomo. Data caching represents at least a slight shift in that center of gravity. Data caching is now part of DataPower because it is closely tied with the scalability issues that confront highly successful Web applications.
DataPower data caching is in effect a simplified version of IBM's WebSphere eXtreme Scale offering. Both IBM data caching products will be seen competing with Oracle's Coherence caching software product.
"These days, every second of response time that you lose can be directly translated to lost revenue and opportunity," said Cuomo. But this leads to a question. "When demand doubles, do you have to double capacity?" he asked.
The question might be: can the data base be buffered from increased activity? That is one of the places where data caching is finding more use. "Caching can act as a shock absorber," Cuomo said.
Caching of the like that the new DataPower appliance provides helps deal with high system demand. Examples of places where it can be immediately employed - without programmatic changes – are HTTP session processing and dynamic page caching, both of which can be a great burden on the modern Web application's database.
"The [DataPower] XC10 gives you an alternative to overloading your database," said Cuomo.
Implementers expect there are more cases that appliances will come to cover. "Going forward, what you are going to see is lots of flavors of DataPower. In my opinion, there will be different versions for different needs," said Ultramatics' David Torissi, who has helped oversee DataPower XI50 and XI60 implementations.
In Las Vegas at Impact 2010, IBM's yearly SOA-oriented event, Torissi discussed SOA implementation issues. He said that the ramp-up time for procurement and provisioning can significantly lengthen development time and in turn reduce a business's return on investment. He suggested that appliances in public clouds, where suitable, will let developers start work on projects well ahead of actual delivery of in-house appliances.
And those appliances may become more sophisticated. "You are going to see more and more capabilities put into DataPower boxes as well as in appliances in general," he said.