Companies including DataPower Technology, Sarvega Networks and Forum Systems are on the verge of releasing technology designed to speed the secure delivery and translation of XML data.
The moves come as XML data becomes increasingly prevalent, and the evolution of Web services standards signals a call for IT infrastructure to support the requirements of distributed, loosely coupled applications.
"With Web services arriving, like the .net initiative from Microsoft, companies are going to need smarter, [more] secure, and faster networks," said Sunil Gaitonde, president and chief executive officer of Sarvega.
Sarvega is developing its XPE Switch, capable of translating and switching XML data, and plans to launch the product at NetWorld+Interop in Las Vegas on 6 May.
"Switches today don't understand XML, [but] companies are already exchanging information using XML," Gaitonde said.
DataPower is building a Layer 7 switch that translates and transfers XML data at wire speed. According to DataPower CEO Eugene Kuznetsov, the device resides next to a server, handling offloaded XML translation functions.
"Making the infrastructure aware of XML traffic will be very important," Kuznetsov said. "XML acceleration is needed in the same way Web caching, load balancing, and SSL [Secure Sockets Layer] acceleration were before."
Meanwhile, Forum Systems is approaching XML switching from the security perspective, focusing on XML parsing and cryptography.
Forum Sentry is in beta and due for general availability at the end of July. "Security has to live within the document," said Mamoon Yunus, Forum Systems' CTO. "Security really becomes the weakest link," he said of network devices.
Companies such as Forum Systems are attempting to address the complexities brought about by the variety of XML schemas running through the network.
In the case of a Web services-based application, an XML-aware switch examines incoming SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) envelopes and makes decisions based on the SOAP header, opens the data packets, transforms or encrypts the XML data into a format that can be understood by the network and speeds it along, vendors and analysts explained.
Each startup appears to be addressing the problem of non-XML-aware networks with different approaches, said Ron Scmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink, an XML research company.
"There is a fundamental difference between XML and Web protocols. The Web is just HTML, XML is content, and every piece is different," Scmelzer explained.
"These startups have XML experience and understand how to inspect content. This expertise is not found at traditional routing companies," he added.
Cisco and Nortel declined to comment on XML switching, but these vendors and others - such as Web traffic acceleration company F5 Networks - will follow with similar technologies, according to David Troug, an analyst at Forrester Research, in a report released late last month.
Troug predicts that XML acceleration startups will be snapped up in the next 18 months.