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Layer 7 Moves Towards Hardware ESB

Layer 7 has launch the SecureSpan Mainframe SOA Gateway, its first product that features service-enablement: converting legacy mainframe APIs into more standardized Web services.

The box marks an entry into a new market for Layer 7, straying into ESB territory. Like most other SOA hardware vendors, it has until now been concerned with security or accelerating specific XML operations. So far, the only other company to make ESB-like hardware so far is IBM, which launched the WebSphere DataPower Integration Appliance last year.

Service-enablement isn't as obvious a fit for hardware as security or acceleration were, as it isn't be as well-defined. While nearly everyone who uses Web services will need a firewall or XML-based routing, the range of legacy systems that a Web service needs to interoperate with is much larger. (If the legacy services were standardized, there'd be no need for Web services.) That makes it harder to bake functionality into hardware and means that more configuration is usually necessary.

Layer 7 gets around this by building in support for several common mainframe applications such as IMS (IBM Information Management System) and CICS (Customer Information Control System). It also helps that the actual hardware (a PC platform plus XML chips from Tarari) is the same in all Layer 7's appliances, so support for more standards is relatively easy to add. This also means that the same physical appliance box can be used as an firewall, XML accelerator and service-enabler, making the hardware option more flexible and thus more competitive with server-based software.

Like security gateway competitors such as Vordel and Xtradyne, Layer 7 started selling virtual appliances last year. The new gateway is also available in this form, bringing the company into direct competition with traditional ESB and service-enablement vendors, including some of its own partners like Software AG.