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Optical/IP

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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mr zippy 12/5/2012 | 3:10:51 AM
re: Telecom Startups Play in XML "With so much XML traffic flitting around, why not start using XML to route traffic, rather than dissecting messages at the IP level?"

Because it embeds application knowledge into the network. This is bellhead mentality, and is a loosing proposition, as it means that the network becomes customised for one application, and therefore isn't able to run other applications very well.

There was some validity in the bellhead model when it was invented 100 years ago. Telephone handsets couldn't have computers embedded in them, so all the (application) intelligence had to be embedded in the network. Times change, and therefore there isn't much reason anymore to put application intelligence in the network, and certainly a lot of reasons not to.

The nethead view is that the applications only exist on the end-points or at the edge. It's more formal name is "the end-to-end argument".

Here is an example of the benefit of the end-to-end argument.

One day, back in 1992, I had access to the Internet, of which the three "killer" applications I was using were FTP, NNTP a.k.a. usenet news and email.

Then my manager invited me in to show me a web browser on his X-terminal. That was cool.

So I went back to my workstation, downloaded and ran the Mosaic web browser, and instantly had access to the web.

Why was it so easy for me to access the web ? Because the only change that needed to take place took place on my end-node. The "Internet" didn't need changing at all, because none of the network devices i.e. routers, ethernet hubs etc, understood the applications.

Embedding specific application knowledge in the network prevents this easy deployment of applications, which increases the costs and complexity of the network. Cisco et. al. might be interested in this for possibly two reasons (a) the bellheads have taken over or (b) it forces the customers to upgrade all their network infrastrture equipment everytime they want to install a new application.

Now, for some references to writings on this topic by people far smarter than me :

"RISE OF THE STUPID NETWORK"
http://www.isen.com/stupid.htm...

"Architectural Principles of the Internet"
- section 2.3
http://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/...

The paper refered to in the above RFC is :

"END-TO-END ARGUMENTS IN SYSTEM DESIGN"
http://www.reed.com/Papers/End...

NAT breaks end-to-end, as it needs to understand both the application protocols so that it can swap around IP addresses, and the transport layer protocols, so that it can recalculate the transport layer protocol checksums, which includes IP address information. Here is a list of quite a number of consequences. For the VoIP people, DCCP as a replacement for UDP would be very attractive, as it is congestion sensitive, unfortunately NAT will make it harder to deploy :

"Things that NATs break"
http://www.cs.utk.edu/~moore/w...

Regarding the vendors who are considering XML routing, maybe they came across this press release, and the associated web site, and didn't notice the date :

"Jabber Software Foundation and XCP Consortium Team Up to Build the Real-Time Internet"
http://www.jabber.org/press/20...

The XML Control Protocol
http://www.x-cp.org/
Peter Heywood 12/5/2012 | 3:10:49 AM
re: Telecom Startups Play in XML Great post!

This story reminds me of Cisco buying Arrowpoint for $5.7 bn and Nortel buying Alteon for $7.8 bn, both of which were said to be application layer switches.

Two questions:

(1) How do these XML routers differ from Layer 7 switches?
(2) Is this all going to end in tears again?

quick_or_dead 12/5/2012 | 3:10:48 AM
re: Telecom Startups Play in XML mr. zippy is confused in saying that XML-aware networking is bad "because it embeds application knowledge into the network."

1. XML is much more than a single application, it is a ubiquitous message-level data encoding standard. Cisco or DataPower are not building XML ASICs for a specific application. Application-orientation is a matter of policy configuration, not a specific product.

2. Only parts of the network infrastructure that benefit from knowing about XML are affected -- just like an Akamai CDN or ArrowPoint SLB does not replace IP routing. This has little to do with end-to-end arguments, since unlike the PSTN it does not prevent you from rolling out new, non-XML protocols in the future.

3. Taken to the exteme, the "end-to-end" argument prevents service providers from *ever* delivering any value-added service -- by definition, the telcos can only offer "dumb, cheap network". This is not sustainable and major carrier initiatives (e.g. Infranet, www.infranet.org) are afoot to build the next level of value-added capabilities.

4. To understand message networks, you have to understand middleware, software, and web services -- as well as Layer 1-4 networking. If you don't know how ESBs, SOAs and the like work inside an enterprise network, it's hard to appreciate the power of an AON.

5. DataPower (www.datapower.com) has been doing XML routing & security since 1999, the CEO is the ex-GM of Cisco's content networking BU, and Cheng Wu of ArrowPoint fame is on the board of directors; VP engineering is ex-Sycamore. These are serious, networking-savvy people, and the customer list includes many big banks, telcos and the military. In both market entrenchment and mature product terms, the DataPower guys are way ahead and will give any of the newcomers, small or large, a run for their money.
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:10:48 AM
re: Telecom Startups Play in XML Great points, Mr. Zippy. Thanks for the post.

This does relate to the debate over where the intelligence should reside: in the network, or at the endpoints? Some folks are saying the *applications* ought to be doing a lot of this stuff, even the traffic engineering and WAN optimizing that Cisco and Juniper are making acquisitions around.

Then the question becomes, what happens if your software and the network disagree on a routing question? The network (routers) would probably override the software. You end up with a clash of intelligence because too many parts of the network have gotten too smart.

Frank Dzubeck (analyst) talks about this quite a bit, and he points out that enterprise applications and network equipment aren't talking to each other on this level. It's a topic for some planned follow-up stories.
xmljam 12/5/2012 | 3:10:45 AM
re: Telecom Startups Play in XML XML is not an application. How does XML inject application knowledge in the networks?

Routing on XML instead of low level IP headers makes the network more reliable for ecommerce.

As most of the XML based web services run on HTTP, you are unlikely to see any trangression of the architecture principles you have referenced here.
quick_or_dead 12/5/2012 | 3:10:44 AM
re: Telecom Startups Play in XML http://www.lightreading.com/do...
quick_or_dead 12/5/2012 | 3:10:44 AM
re: Telecom Startups Play in XML Ron202 said:
"as far as I recall almost all the 'xml appliances ' are running Xeon or Opteron processors with Linux look alike operating systems and some hardware accelerators..
or I got it wrong?"

You're a little wrong -- yes, *most* of them (e.g. Sarvega, Reactivity, etc.) are just software companies masquarading as network vendors. But not all... Cisco certainly isn't, and DataPower was a SuperComm last week with a NEBS chassis box.

Natural confusion though, with Intel/AMD servers floating around as "appliances".
ron202 12/5/2012 | 3:10:44 AM
re: Telecom Startups Play in XML So if you want to route based on XML in (most of the) cases you need to:
1.terminate the tcp connection in a network element (pseudo server implementation)
2. decrypt the data if it is encrypted (hope that you have the key)
3. restart the connection toward the final destination deduced from XML stream (pseudo client) with eventually a new encryption.

did I miss something ?
it is worth the trouble (in the middle of the network ?)? for what benefit?
as far as I recall almost all the 'xml appliances ' are running Xeon or Opteron processors with Linux look alike operating systems and some hardware accelerators..
or I got it wrong?
ron
ron202 12/5/2012 | 3:10:43 AM
re: Telecom Startups Play in XML You're a little wrong -- yes, *most* of them (e.g. Sarvega, Reactivity, etc.) are just software companies masquarading as network vendors. But not all... Cisco certainly isn't, and DataPower was a SuperComm last week with a NEBS chassis box.

Hmm! take out all the hw accelerators , regular expession search engines etc. look deeper on the blade and you'll find the x86s there..not familiar with datapower.NEBS by itself is not related to XML.
bottom line the above mentioned functions needed by an xml parser didn't move in hw yet and probably will never move completly.
mr zippy 12/5/2012 | 3:10:42 AM
re: Telecom Startups Play in XML Missed this, its useful because it proves my point !

As most of the XML based web services run on HTTP, you are unlikely to see any trangression of the architecture principles you have referenced here.

That is of course because the network doesn't understand HTTP / HTML, and therefore ignores it, which means that XML can be deployed within a HTTP stream, and the network both doesn't care nor restrains it from happening.
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