IBM Corp has announced that it is buying DataPower Technology Inc, a privately held maker of XML appliances. DataPower is one of a number of XML appliance makers that have emerged to resolve the problem of parsing, managing, and transforming bulky XML messages.
DataPower’s approach adds another tier to the middleware stack required for managing processing of XML-based messages in services-oriented environments.
We are taking middleware functionality and packaging it into an appliance, explained Eugene Kuznetsov, founder, chairman and CTO of the six-year-old Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company.
With the acquisition, IBM is the first major middleware platform provider to formally add hardware acceleration to its stack. In effect, it legitimizes the view that effective management of services-oriented architectures (SOAs) will likely require a blend of software and hardware.
Admittedly, reports of XML bottlenecks are still rare because most organizations are still in the early phases of ramping up their web services and SOA (services-oriented architecture) deployments.
But that picture is likely to change as SOA deployments mature and scale up. Far bulkier than binary code, XML messages that adhere to web services standards grow even bulkier because they must contain their own headers.
The headers are critical for identifying who sent the message, what the message is, how it is structured, and what forms of security, such as digital signatures, are contained. Then there’s the payload, which can be as small as a transaction request or as large as a rich media document.
Consequently, DataPower is one of a number of players, including Forum Systems, Sarvega, Reactivity, Layer 7 and others, who are providing specialized appliances that offload XML processing. The tasks include parsing the message, while applying security policies and transformations to headers and/or payloads.
DataPower, whose entire 70-person staff will join IBM, currently offers three models of appliances, starting with a basic parser, with deluxe models adding security gateway and transformation services, respectively.
According to Robert LeBlanc, head of IBM’s WebSphere business, that’s just a starting point. Although the acquisition is too new to sport a formal product roadmap, IBM dropped broad hints as to possible ways of expanding and embedding DataPower’s offerings with WebSphere, Tivoli, and DB2.
For instance, the DataPower appliances could be tuned for WebSphere J2EE acceleration or mediation. They could also embed rules and policies from Tivoli Access Manager, while adding further acceleration to DB2 Viper’s optimization for accessing XML-based data.
Furthermore, IBM could repackage DataPower’s capabilities outside the appliance. We are committed to many form factors, said LeBlanc, noting that one early target is embedding DataPower XML processors into IBM blades.
With XML processing migrating from middleware into the network, could this be confused with the concept of Application-Oriented Networking (AON) that Cisco introduced several months ago? That possibility is real because DataPower also characterizes its approach as AON, while listing Cisco as one of its partners.
The difference between DataPower and Cisco, said Kuznetsov, is that DataPower appliances inspect messages while Cisco devices decipher IP packets. But he admits that distinction could be lost on some.
Sometimes what you would call AON is what Robert [IBM’s Robert LeBlanc] and I call middleware, Kuznetsov said, admitting, I think we’re all struggling with the right terminology.
Confusing terminology or not, IBM is one of Cisco’s AON partners, and obviously wants the most diplomatic face on matters. Customers will approach messaging from multiple perspectives, said LeBlanc. It depends on whether you come from the application or network perspective.