Be Careful With Those XML-Accerleration Tools

Web services ease the difficulty of cross-platform integration of business applications, but the emerging technology can also sink data-center performance, experts warn.

April 8, 2004

3 Min Read
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Web services ease the difficulty of cross-platform integration of business applications, but the emerging technology can also sink data-center performance, experts warn.

Key to the bottleneck that can accompany the use of web services is extensible markup language. While XML is the technology's greatest strength, it can also be its Achilles' heel.

As a data standard, XML enables cross-platform distribution of purchase-orders, invoices, insurance forms and a host of other business documents across applications. But the files, which are packed with metadata related to business processes, security and more, can be as many as 20 times the size of proprietary formats. Therefore, depending on the amount of traffic, XML documents can consume as much as 80 percent of a computer system's available processing power.

"No one argues that XML is the most efficient way of integration," Ronald Schmelzer, analyst for market researcher ZapThink LLC, said. "There's always a tradeoff. You're gaining effective integration at the expense of network efficiency."

But problems for some are opportunities for others, and a new XML-acceleration market is emerging to tackle the dilemma. Vendors are selling specialized hardware that handles XML processing separately, thereby decreasing the workload on data servers."As the demand for Web services grows, XML acceleration and security will be critical network components," Lucinda Borovick, analyst for International Data Corp., said in a recent report. "IDC anticipates over the next two years that an ecosystem of Web services acceleration products will emerge from network, software, and server vendors."

The three key players are Sarvega, Tarari and DataPower, according to IDC. But there are many startups entering what's becoming a hot market, and one such new entry is Conformative Systems.

The Austin, Texas, company is currently in beta with its first product, which it plans to ship in the third quarter. Pricing of the hardware appliance has not been announced.

Conformative's product is unique because it performs all three necessary tasks in handling XML documents, according to Mark Nagaitis, vice president of marketing for Conformative.

The appliance parses an XML document to extract only the data needed to complete a particular transaction, validates the data to make sure it can be processed by the targeted application, and finally transforms the XML data into the proper format, Nagaitis said. The hardware processes XML documents at a gigabyte per second.In justifying the need for its product, Conformative released this week results of a survey of 30 Fortune 500 companies. All the participants in the study, which was done with consulting firm ReSolution Market Research, had experienced performance problems in large-scale XML projects.

The study found that only 25 percent of the respondents had a long-term strategy for dealing with performance problems, Nagaitis said. The rest planned stopgap measures, such as adding more hardware, batch processing some applications and tuning databases.

Those measures could fall short, depending on the size of the projects; and a separate hardware appliance may be necessary, experts say. But for companies like Conformative, success will depend on product quality.

"What's going to set (Conformative) apart is the nuts and bolts of the technology," Schmelzer said. "Can they do it better and faster, and can they market it.

"This is definitely becoming a hot market."0

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