Service-oriented architecture standards and tools are firming up nicely. Problem is, IT is still scrambling for answers to the cultural, management and political complexities that come along with maturing SOA implementations. A number of vendors are promoting SOA appliances as the remedy for what ails IT in terms of integration, security and governance. But when architects and developers go shopping for one of these new "SOA in a Box" systems, they're too often left with more questions than answers. Even the definition of what, exactly, comprises a SOA appliance is in flux.
We decided to launch a Rolling Review to find out how well current offerings cover the bases on XML security, acceleration, transformation and parsing functionality. We're looking to evaluate SOA appliances from Cast Iron, Cisco, IBM, , Layer7, Software AG and Vordel on ease of installation and configuration, breadth of functionality, management capabilities, features and price.
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Breaking Down the Box
Appliances of all types are popular with IT pros because they tend to get projects moving quickly and for a lower total cost of ownership. Ideally, they're designed for ease of installation and maintenance and can integrate into the network almost immediately, then run with little or no support. Most of us think of an appliance as software preinstalled on specially preconfigured hardware, but as virtualization gains popularity we're seeing a trend toward "virtual appliances" that skip the hardware. So given that definition, what is a SOA appliance?
This article is the first of a series and is part of NWC's Rolling Review of SOA Appliances. Click on that link to go to the Rolling Reviews home page to read all the features and reviews now.
Answering that question requires an understanding of SOA and an appreciation for when and where an appliance might help. As we illustrate in the chart to the right, SOA appliances typically fall into three usage scenarios: Web tier, security, and integration and management. SOA appliances trace their lineage to XML accelerator appliances, so it's not surprising that most are best suited to Web tier and security tasks. Recently, however, vendors have set their sights on addressing issues such as governance, which would fall into the integration and management scenario.
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