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Web Services' Minority Report

The next time the CTO speaks about Service-Oriented Architectures (SOAs), remember this: XML, the technology underlying today's SOAs, consumes 30 to 50 times more bandwidth than comparable protocols, can increase storage requirements tenfold, and may run a fraction of the speed of traditional interapplication processes. So just how are you going to realize the CTO's vision of an SOA without killing the network?

If you're lucky, you won't have to--at least not yet. Standards are still developing, products are still being introduced, and the strategies of major networking infrastructure players such as Cisco Systems and Nortel Networks are still unclear. What is clear is that the networking and security implications for deploying a full-blown SOA based on XML and Web services are enormous. At every facet of the enterprise, network architects need to rethink the impact that such a move will have on their infrastructure.

That's because rolling out an SOA means capital costs, integration work, and planning, not just in terms of the software architecture, but the underlying physical network. Encompassing XML in any large-scale project will require capital expenditures in terms of accelerators, specialized firewalls, and new types of routers--all at $20,000 to $80,000 a pop. Add to that the risk of Application-layer attacks that interorganizational SOAs create, and network architects have a handful to deal with.

But while you can bide your time now, XML and Web services will be in your future. The benefits of the technology are too widespread and too compelling to ignore. Web services let companies easily couple disparate computing systems, enabling them to streamline business processes among departments and between organizations.

It's not just the face of applications that XML will change, either. The protocol's self-descriptive capabilities will also transform network management. Today, the IETF is hammering out the details of an XML-based network management specification that will likely supersede SNMP, and infrastructure vendors have already added XML-based interfaces to their products (see "Service Management Saves the Enterprise," December 2004).

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