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Alcatel Launches XML Security Box, Searches for Software Partners

Alcatel-Lucent has launched
the OmniAccesss 8550 Web Services Gateway, an appliance aimed at
securing, accelerating and auditing Web services. The box is essentially
an XML firewall, though it also offers some features also associated
with application front-ends such as load-balancing. And Alcatel is
positioning it as a platform that will eventually run both middleware

and applications.

Built on a PC server platform, the 8550 includes dedicated SSL and XML
acceleration hardware (the latter from Tarari.) The latter means it is
bucking a trend, as the rise of virtualization has persuaded XML
firewall vendors such as Layer 7 Technologies and Vordel to move away
from dedicated hardware. Even Intel has entered the market on
the software side
, with a suite that it claims can boost performance
without extra hardware.

Combining AFE functionality with an XML firewall is more in tune with
moves from other
network infrastructure
, companies notably Cisco Systems and F5,
though neither has a directly comparable product. Like the XML firewall
vendors, F5's BIG-IP lacks dedicated XML hardware. Cisco's ACE does have
XML hardware (again from Tarari), but it's really two separate products
that need to be fitted to the same core switch.

But Alcatel's plans go beyond combining AFEs with SOA security. The
appliance also includes identity management, service provisioning and a
UDDI registry, something Alcatel hopes make it ideal for regulatory
compliance. In the long term, it sees the 8550 as a platform for
offloading functions from an Enterprise Service Bus, and hopes to
partner with several ESB or application vendors. The result would be
something like IBM's WebSphere ESB appliance, but more flexible because
of its multi-vendor support.

Though the 8550 was only launched today, Alcatel has already announced
three future versions which it says will ship over the next 18-24
months. If all goes according to plan, release 2 will add further
security and reliability features. Release 3 aims to incorporate
technology from software partners (such as ESB or Web services
management vendors) that help it move into other markets. Release 4 will
supposedly improve scalability and performance, as well as add the
ability to run actual applications from partners.

Alcatel says that all of these improvements will be enabled through new
software, meaning that customers who buy earlier versions will be able
to upgrade. However, enterprises attracted by the idea of combining
everything into one box will likely want to wait and see how realistic
the plans turn out to be. Running ESBs and apps will ultimately depend
on the cooperation of partners, none of whom have yet signed up.
Possibilities include vendors like Sonic Software, Cape Clear and
AmberPoint on the middleware side; then BEA, Oracle and perhaps even
Microsoft on the app side, though Alcatel has not named any of these.

Hardware assistance with applications and middleware is something that
other vendors have been looking at for some time, but made little
progress in. The closest competitor is Cisco's AON, an appliance or
add-on blade for switches and routers which can run middleware from
several partners. It is also part of a joint SOA suite that Cisco is
with SAP. However, AON has now been around for two and
half years and so far failed to gain significant traction.

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