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Rolling Review: SOA Appliances

When we embarked on this Rolling Review to assess SOA appliances that provide XML security, acceleration, transformation, and parsing, we weren't expecting to find feature-packed products where Web services meet the network. However, as our previous tests of Layer 7's SecureSpan XML Networking Gateway proved, these appliances are mature enough to consolidate specific SOA services and XML processing on the network itself.

Vordel's XML Gateway, which gets the Rolling Review treatment this time around, delivers additional proof of that maturity.

This appliance really packs a punch. The XML Gateway moves processor-intensive XML tasks from application servers to the network itself. While other vendors rely solely on hardware acceleration cards, like the Tarari XML Accelerator, Vordel leverages its own XML Acceleration Engine (VXA) for XML processing. This approach enables Vordel to offer XML acceleration in both software- and hardware-based appliances.

The hardware-based XML Gateway appliance runs on Vordel's VX Platform, a pre-hardened deployment environment. Essentially, the VX Platform sits atop the Dell PowerEdge line of servers and is available in two form factors, depending on processing requirements. The VX platform offers cryptographic acceleration via an nCipher nShield Hardware Security Module (HSM), which applies SSL acceleration to transport-level security. Using redundant power supplies, network interfaces, and RAID-configured disks, the VX Platform eliminates single points of failure and offers high availability out of the box.

Vordel's XML Gateway is a pre-hardened network appliance that promises to offload processor-intensive tasks running on application servers. In addition to routing XML traffic based on content or sender, it performs XML content screening and transforms XML payloads on the fly. The XML Gateway protects services and mediates communications between service consumers and providers, while its software-based VXA engine provides XML acceleration for XPath expressions, XML schema validation, and XSL transformations on both hardware- and software-based appliances.
Vordel has been one of the more aggressive SOA appliance players, and Version 5.0 of the company's XML Gateway provides an impressive range of functionality, from identity management and mediation to XML content inspection and enrichment. Vordel delivers this functionality using a feature-rich suite of tools; in addition to the Vordel Policy Director, which provides policy management, Vordel also offers Vordel Reporter for full visibility reporting on Web service use, and Vordel SOAPbox, which proved to be a useful test harness for XML applications. We previously tested in this Rolling Review Layer 7's SecureSpan XML Networking Gateway, a hardware-accelerated XML firewall and service gateway, and are looking to bring products from Cisco and IBM into our lab.
Vordel's claim for ease of deployment and centralized policy management is well-founded. In our lab tests, we were able to quickly set up both software and hardware-based appliances and manage policies across them. This is a nice feature and obviates having to manage silos of policies across XML appliances.
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