XML skills enter the network market

IT managers may be forced to learn programming techniques as the first range of XML-based network devices is launched.

IT managers may be forced to learn programming techniques as the first range of XML-based network devices is launched.

Will Garside

Network specialist F5 has unveiled its new iControl interface to manage its range of switches, caches and load balancers.

The company claims the interface will simplify tasks such as adding content to Web sites and altering the network to improve application performance during times of heavy demand.

Dr Iain Stevenson, research director for next generation networks at analyst firm Ovum, commented: "This is a striking announcement, although the question arises as to who will implement these solutions. Few network managers will have the necessary programming skills, while web developers are unlikely to understand the intricacies of the network."

A spokesperson for F5 suggested software manufacturers would build the bulk of the required XML scripts directly into the applications. The company claims that Microsoft's Application Centre 2000 is the first application management product to have XML scripts built in.

Garth Fort, group product manager at Microsoft for Application Centre 2000 said the application would fully support F5's iControl interface to help customers manage large-scale applications from a single screen. F5 is now offering the iControl development tools to other software companies for free, in the hope that they will be adopted more widely.

Although F5 has yet to announce any major customers for its iControl XML interface, the company does conduct working demonstrations. In one example, the content management application Vignette uses an XML script to alter a network configuration automatically, enabling content servers and caches to be updated quickly. Previously, this task would have required a network manager to reconfigure each network device in sequence.

But George Bathurst, spokesman for Hewlett-Packard's OpenView network management software cautioned: "This is an interesting development but you will still need tools to monitor the impact of any application on other network traffic. Although exciting, it is not a replacement for traditional SNMP network management tools."

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