Telecom Startups Play in XML

Startups are pitching XML routers for telco networks, but Cisco isn't far behind

June 15, 2005

3 Min Read
Telecom Startups Play in XML

The XML wave is heading to the telecom world, with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) hot on the trail.

The ubiquity of XML (extended markup language) for areas such as back-office messaging is leading service providers to consider the idea of routing that traffic at Layer 7, without bothering with IP. It's part of the general trend of Layers 4 through 7 networking, but XML has gotten particular attention from companies such as DataPower Technology Inc., which showed off some carrier-grade XML acceleration and processing gear at last week's Supercomm (see DataPower Flexes XML).

Other startups looking at this area include Solace Systems Inc., which took its 3200 Series Multiservice Message Router to general availability in April, and Sarvega Inc., one of several companies working on XML security (see Solace Unveils XML Message Router).

Cisco is on its way, though. Earlier this year, it was reported the company was developing its own XML acceleration technology under the catch-phrase Application Oriented Networks (AON). That product didn't debut at Supercomm, as many in the industry had guessed, but the startups in this space say they definitely feel its presence.

"We've gone up against Cisco in a couple of accounts," says Peter Ashton, Solace's vice president of marketing. "AON is involved with some of their chassis-based routers."

Cisco did not return a call for comment.

XML is most famous for its role in enterprise networks, where the markup language (it looks a lot like HTML code) has replaced the proprietary messaging formats used in database and transaction systems. Tasks such as communication between SAP and other applications, or the tracking of FedEx packages, have been handed over to XML.

With so much XML traffic flitting around, why not start using XML to route traffic, rather than dissecting messages at the IP level? "It's really about how you can process a whole message at a time," says Eugene Kuznetsov, DataPower's chairman and chief technology officer.

Based on that logic, DataPower and others are developing XML gear with telecom providers in mind, adding the requisite carrier-class features. "We've had service provider customers running in production for quite a while. They're just now starting to talk about using these outside their own networks," Kuznetsov says.

It's easy to see why Cisco and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) might find XML routing attractive, as both companies have been targeting this kind of higher-layer control for carrier networks. Juniper, obsessing lately over traffic processing, dived into the Layers 4 through 7 market by announcing acquisitions of Peribit Networks Inc. and Redline Networks. Cisco, likewise, announced plans to pick up FineGround Networks (see Juniper's Kriens Stuck On Traffic, Juniper Takes Two: Peribit & Redline, and Cisco Chomps FineGround).

For now, though, the XML routing playground is run by startups. They don't seem intimidated by Cisco lurking in the background -- mainly because this territory is "so different from anything else [router vendors] do," Kuznetsov says. "This isn't a feature where they're adding a little bit more intelligence or a little more performance."

DataPower and Solace both claim the trick is in the hardware; a software version of DataPower's XI50 Integration Appliance would take up "a data center full of servers," Kuznetsov says. And that hardware has to be specialized, to boot. Solace found it couldn't take advantage of XML-processing chips from the likes of Tarari Inc. "Nothing off-the-shelf was available with the scaleability we needed," Ashton says.

When Cisco's AON arrives, it will find competition aplenty. And more could be on the way, as chip startups continue to attack the XML space, potentially fueling more XML systems vendors. Tarari, a spinoff of Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), has been championing an XML chip for years.And Xambala Inc. claims its "semantic processor" can handle various Layer 7 protocols, including HTML and XML.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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