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The phrase "the network is the computer" was originally coined to suggest that computers connected by a network make a much more powerful solution. But, nowadays it has another connotation as more and more intelligence is being put into network appliances.

An appliance is a device that provides a limited, well-defined function as compared to a general-purpose computer that can provide any function. The advantage of appliances is that they remove a lot of the complexity of a general-purpose machine and this means that they are more reliable and faster. They sit on the network in a similar way to hardware routers and firewalls, hence the view that network is becoming the computer. They in fact tend to be built using standard hardware and run a cut down version of UNIX that provides just sufficient function for their needs. Their potential down side is that they have to be connected together in complex configurations to provide a total solution, the complexity adds to the total cost of ownership (TCO).

The solution is to put more functionality into one appliance, but still retain the reliability and speed of an appliance. One company that has been following this path for the last five years in the XML space is DataPower. They started with an XML accelerator appliance (XA35), which allows the processing of XML, XSD, XPath and XSLT at wire-speed. This is based on a patent that was granted early in August 2004, the patent describes a formal language for describing the transformation (this can be used for supporting XML and non-XML formats) and the on the fly compilation technology required to turn the language into executable code on the appliance.

Once an accelerator had been developed there was a need to provide adequate security. All XML Web services security functions, such as XML schema validation, XML Encryption, XML Signature, WS-Security and others, require extensive XML processing, so it makes perfect sense to build the security using the same technology. Hence, DataPower created the XS40 XML Security Gateway.

In mid-August DataPower announced the next step in this journey with the XI50 XML Integration Appliance. XI50 Integration Appliance supports a range of popular transport protocols, including IBM MQ Series. XI50 can parse and transform arbitrary binary, flat text and XML messages, including COBOL Copybook, CORBA, CICS, ISO 8583, ASN.1 and EDI. The XI50 includes the functions of the XS40 and XA35.

The benefit of this approach is that all the translation from non-XML functions and protocols to a standard XML format can be off-loaded into the appliance. This should reduce the operational cost and also reduce the complexity of supporting changes in the connected systems. This means that the Business Process Management servers, and the application servers, can concentrate on creating new business solutions as they will be send and receive everything in a standard XML format.

We would expect to see further use of the appliance concept both to provide a wider range of function but also to provide more sophisticated functions, for example it could be possible to implements business rules in an appliance. Expect further cost improvements, new functionality and better integration of appliances and other servers as DataPower and others extend the scope and power of appliances.

Copyright © 2004, IT-Analysis.com

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