October 15, 2002
As a growing number of companies wake up to the benefits of using extensible markup language, or XML, a few startups have begun to emerge with products that address the equally large challenges posed by the meta-language.
One of these companies is Chicago-based startup Sarvega Inc., which was founded in 2000 and introduced its XPE Switch for intelligent XML routing in May. The switch, which sits at Layer 7 behind the firewall and in front of Web and application servers, aims to solve several of the problems facing XML users today.
While the independence and flexibility of XML allow companies and government institutions to more easily exchange information with suppliers and partners and to better provide Web services, XML documents, which are text-based, crave large amounts of bandwidth and are difficult to translate and secure. High processing and transmission overheads can bog down the XML user’s network, while new security threats hidden deep inside the packets are undetectable by traditional security devices.
Like accelerators used for Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and other bandwidth-intensive encryption protocols, Sarvega claims that its switch helps avoid bottlenecks and service degradation in the network by off-loading XML processing from application and Web servers.
Sarvega, which has received $10 million in funding thus far, has also built a universal translator into its switch, which it claims can decipher all the different XML formats. This is a useful tool, since the lack of standards imposed on XML means that users have to deal with a slew of different versions.
“It is completely XML agnostic,” says John Chirapurath, Sarvega’s VP of marketing.
In addition, the XPE has the ability to delve deep into the XML packets and understand and recognize specific tags within the document, and, following pre-set rules, give priority to the more important documents, regardless of their size. The switch can then route the information directly to the appropriate party without sending it to a mainframe first. “It can see the difference between a $10,000 and a $10 million contract,” Chirapurath says. “It makes your infrastructure purchase smart.”
Money isn’t the only thing smart XML processing can save, according to TeleChoice Inc. CEO Danny Briere, who points out that for homeland security and emergency work, more efficient processing and prioritizing of information is vital. “That means a much better response time,” he says. “XML is on the leading edge, and XML switching is on the leading edge of the leading edge.”
It may be the leading edge, but a market for XML switching is still largely theoretical. Although Sarvega already boasts approximately 10 paying customers, including CommWorks and Fujitsu Ltd. (KLS: FUJI.KL), the market for XML acceleration doesn’t seem to be expanding very quickly. While XML accounted for about 40 percent of proprietary formats used in enterprises in 2002, and will account for about 60 percent by 2004, according to Gartner Inc. numbers, a recent Infonetics Research Inc. study shows that only 4 percent of organizations use XML acceleration today, and only 6 percent are planning on adding such a device by 2004.
"Content acceleration is still a niche market, requiring a good reason for its deployment,” the Infonetics report states. “Many users aren't aware of its existence; vendors need to educate the public, target specific, high-yield uses, and demonstrate good ROI."
“Sarvega is a startup,” asserts Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst at ZapThink LLC. “Their biggest challenge is getting adoption in the market. They should be looking at partnerships.”
The market for Sarvega’s switch may still be small, but the potential market opportunity is huge, says HTRC Group LLC senior analyst Greg Howard. "This space is pivotal on the deployment of things like Web services," he says, pointing out that the proportion of companies that use XML for Web services will jump from 56 percent this year to 78 percent next year. "If a company is providing Web services, it is probably using XML."
Sarvega hasn’t had to worry about a lot of competition yet. Howard says there are fewer than 20 companies with XML processing products -- both hardware and software -- on the market, and Briere says there probably aren’t more than 60 to 70 companies out there beta-testing hardware-based XML processors.
Two other startups, DataPower Technology Inc. and Forum Systems Inc., are often mentioned in the same breath as Sarvega. Both companies released their own hardware appliances over the summer.
The larger players like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), and Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) haven’t entered the market yet, but observers say they expect they will jump in once the market has matured, probably through acquisition. “Of course I’m worried about Cisco,” Chirapurath says. “But what keeps me awake at night is the entrance of another startup.”
While DataPower’s XA35 XML Accelerator is highly focused on accelerating XML processing, and Forum Systems’ Sentry 1500 tackles the security risks associated with XML, Sarvega is aiming to address both of these issues through intelligent routing. Acceleration is the main focus of the current XPE switch version, but the company is now working on a next generation of its product, which will contain additional features for securing XML documents. The new switches will be on the market at the beginning of next year, the company says.
“Their box probably just does more than everybody else’s at this point,” Briere says. When it comes to speed, however, he says he hasn’t heard of any independent tests that reveal which box is the fastest.
While some observers question how long it will be before features for securing XML are integrated into more traditional security appliances in the network, ZapThink's Schmelzer says he expects people will opt for a separate appliance.
“With traditional firewalls, XML passes through them like a hot knife through butter,” he says.
While some companies have been adding more intelligence to their firewalls, HTRC Group's Howard says it's more likely that devices like Sarvega's switch will start to function as application-level firewalls. "There's a whole new level of security that these boxes can provide," he says.
The XPE is 4U high, with a starting price of $100,000.
— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Light Reading
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