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Rolling Review: Layer 7 SecureSpan XML Networking Gateway

The SecureSpan appliance is available with built-in XML acceleration

Layer 7's SecureSpan XML Networking Gateway is a hardware-accelerated XML firewall and service gateway. Its main purpose is to protect Web services and mediate communications between service consumers and providers, without slowing things down.
Layer 7 Technologies is aggressively pursuing the XML appliance market by increasing the breadth of functionality in its products. With version 4.3 of the SecureSpan SOA appliance, Layer 7 takes a step toward realizing its vision of a hardware-enabled enterprise service bus. In addition to a wide variety of SOA security features, the SecureSpan gateway sports content inspection, data transformation, protocol switching, and SLA enforcement features.
Layer 7 lived up to its claim to support standards such as WS-Security 1.0, SAML 1.1 and 2.0, SSL 2.0/3.0, and JMS 1.0. Our testing showed that SecureSpan provides convenient mechanisms for defining and managing policy information.

When we set out late last year to review comprehensive SOA appliances that provide XML security, acceleration, transformation, and parsing, we worried that we wouldn't find all this goodness in one box. We also didn't foresee the speed at which this space would coalesce.

Since Cisco Systems acquired Reactivity last year, the XML appliance market, for the most part, has been quiet. But next door, Layer 7 Technologies and Vordel continue to be aggressive players in the XML security gateway area. And they'll need to be tough--the core function of an XML security gateway is an XML firewall, and this is a service that established firewall vendors like Cisco, Juniper Networks, and F5 Networks all believe they're well-positioned to provide.

As standalone XML appliances become poster children for market consolidation, which vendors survive is an open question. What's not up for debate is that IT is reaping the benefits of this features competition as we seek to secure and manage our growing service-oriented architectures. As proof, witness the breadth and depth of functionality packed into Layer 7's latest SecureSpan XML Networking Gateway SOA appliance. Not only did SecureSpan control how the Web services in our test bed were exposed to and accessed by partners and customers, it provided us with runtime control over service-level authentication, authorization, key management, credentialing, integrity, confidentiality, schema validation, content inspection, data transformation, threat protection, routing, protocol switching, service-level agreement enforcement, logging and auditing, and other functions.

We took the 1U Layer 7 SecureSpan XML Networking Gateway appliance out for a test drive in our Synegen Real-World Partner Labs. While the amenities of the hardware appliance, primarily setup and maintenance interfaces, could have been better, we had no problem getting the device running and configured. Once under way, we were pleasantly surprised by the operational features and power that the SecureSpan Gateway provided.

The device's configuration interface can be accessed either through a USB keyboard and monitor or via a serial management port on the back of the appliance. In our testing, both worked without a hitch. Once the system was configured, we preferred to access SecureSpan Manager through its client interface because the Web console is somewhat lacking in features. We did appreciate that SecureSpan Manager provided us with a set of predefined roles to control user permissions, a real time saver.

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