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XML traffic to force major network upgrades

As Web services become more common, companies will be forced to upgrade their networks to deal with growing amounts of bulky XML traffic, industry experts say.

The increasing adoption of Web services is beginning to clog enterprise networks with Extensible Markup Language (XML) traffic, causing a series of ramifications, from ballooning bandwidth requirements to the need for new application-layer devices and even changes in firewalls.

According to a recent survey by the Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., 85% of enterprises planned to use Web services in 2003.

"There is a lot of planning-stage activity right now," said Ted Schadler, a principal analyst at Forrester. That means network administrators need to consider how all of this new traffic is likely to affect their networks, he said.

The most obvious impact of XML traffic is its size, said Anne Thomas Manes, research director at the Midvale, Utah-based research firm Burton Group.

An XML message is 10 to 20 times larger than the same message sent on a network today, because XML is text-based rather than binary. Schadler likened it to delivering a letter in a Mack truck.

"As the amount of XML increases within the organization, it will have to boost the capacity of its network," Manes said.

Ken Durazzo, a technical marketing and engineering manager with Cisco Systems Inc., said that some of Cisco's customers are now beginning to look at higher throughput products as a result of increasing XML traffic. He said that more customers are buying multiple gigabit networks cards, and there is a growing interest in 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

Some companies are addressing bandwidth problems with XML accelerators that compress the traffic to allow it to travel across networks more efficiently. Cambridge, Mass.-based DataPower Technology Inc. is one vendor addressing XML-specific issues. Its accelerator is designed to lessen the impact of XML on corporate networks, said Eugene Kuznetsov, founder and CTO of DataPower.

In addition, XML requires more network management at the application layer. Because XML is text based, companies will need to consider layer seven firewalls and other devices that can determine the nature of the XML traffic, Manes said. In addition, the slowing of traffic in those devices is a concern because of the level of examination the device must do.

Within the data center, Durazzo said, XML is also responsible for more server-to-server communications, which will require increased intelligence in internal switches, including features like quality of service and load balancing.

A number of smaller vendors have focused on providing XML-specific networking products, such as DataPower, Confluent Software Inc., Westbridge Technology Inc., and others.

Many of the larger network vendors have not yet begun to market XML-specific products, Schadler said. Over time, he said, it is likely that a number of these smaller, more innovative companies will be absorbed by larger ones looking to improve their own products.


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