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Data centers will reach XML 'tipping point'

Enterprises need to know that adding more application servers to a data center is not the long-term solution for performance issues cause by XML.

Service-oriented architectures, XML and Web services may be evolving into viable enterprise computing strategies, but they do come at a price.

Parsing, transforming and validating XML puts a drain on server resources and cuts into service levels, according to research done by ReSolution Market Research and sponsored by Conformative Systems Inc. Conformative, based in Austin, Texas, sells solutions that apply parallel processing techniques to XML and offload the burden on servers to either an appliance or a PCI card.

The research, conducted in January, tapped senior IT managers in large companies. They were asked about their use of XML and Web services applications and whether they had experienced performance issues following migrations from proprietary data formats to XML.

[Data centers] have to understand that there is going to be a tipping point in the future when the problem gets so big, they fall over.

Mark Nagaitis, VP

Conformative,

"This is an issue [users] are aware of, but they see the benefits of Web services, XML and the standards surrounding those as an enormous positive," said Mark Nagaitis, vice president of marketing with Conformative.

The most popular remedy that data center administrators are applying to the problem is to add more application servers and load balancers to the equation, Nagaitis said. Others batch process some applications and tune their databases to address the performance issues.

"Long term, they're looking for vendors to solve the issue," he said. "[Data centers] have to understand that there is going to be a tipping point in the future when the problem gets so big, they fall over."

Estimates indicate that by 2006, 25% of traffic on a LAN will be XML traffic. Some data centers, Nagaitis said, have as much as 90% XML traffic, while others as little as 7% or 8%. All, however, expect 100% year-over-year growth in those numbers.

Performance degradations, meanwhile, are expected to worsen. Conformative reports that most IT managers who took part in their survey either measured the degradations in terms of service levels or in hardware. Those who reported service losses said response times were 5% to 8% slower. Others, meanwhile, said that 50% to 60% of server cycles handling the data transformation process were dedicated to XML validation.

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"Some were turning validation off because it was choking their systems," Nagaitis said. "There were many different concerns."

Nagaitis said the results were not all bleak. He said financial services institutions have been active early Web services adopters -- along with other vertical markets such as pharmaceuticals and insurance. In those transactions, sensitive financial and patient data is transferred, and applications are exposed to business partners and customers.

More than half of those who took part in the research said they were using XML, Web services and SOA as a corporate-wide strategy. By doing so -- and reusing code, legacy data and applications -- many companies were avoiding training costs for their mainframe and Unix developers.

"They're not just solving a particular problem by architecturing with SOA, XML and Web services," Nagaitis said. "It's a strategic vision for these companies."

"These companies were clear on the benefits of XML, SOA and Web services," he added. "They knew about the cost savings, rapid time to solution for applications and were building Web services that communicate to legacy data and applications in a seamless way."

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