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Start-up accelerates XML Web services

DataPower joins a handful of companies building dedicated hardware to overcome the overhead from processing and securing XML-based applications.

Start-up DataPower Technology on Tuesday upgraded its specialized hardware for improving performance of XML-reliant applications.

Cambridge, Mass.-based DataPower is one of a handful of companies building devices to accelerate the processing needed

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to handle XML documents and add security to Web services applications. The Extensible Markup Language and XML-based Web services are catching on as an agreed-upon method for exchanging information between disparate systems. But applications that use XML extensively can incur significant processing overhead.

DataPower's hardware serves as dedicated device to offload data-intensive processing chores and speed up overall application performance. The company's two products address Web services security and XML processing, or converting XML document formats to allow exchange of data between applications.

Other companies that develop network hardware specific to XML and security processing include Sargeva, Forum Systems and networking performance company F5 Networks, according to analysts. These companies are tackling the problems that XML and Web services bring to corporate data centers, where companies house servers, storage and applications, said Ron Schmelzer, an analyst at ZapThink.

"XML processing is terribly there's definitely going to be a market," said Schmelzer. "But in order for these companies to be financially viable, they will have to find early adopters that are having these problems."

Rather than invest in specialized devices, data center operators would typically invest in other hardware products such as load balancers, servers or networking gear to overcome a slowdown in application performance from securing and processing XML-based Web services, Schmelzer said.

Teleconferencing service provider LeaderPhone has invested in DataPower's XA35 devices to improve performance of its Web-based teleconferencing application. LeaderPhone developed its application so that people using a range of devices, from Palm handhelds and BlackBerry pagers to desktop PCs, can access the service. The company reformats application data using XML-based Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT), according to Jeff Lamb, LeaderPhone's chief technology officer.

The company had found that application performance was lagging because of XML transformations and security processing. Instead of buying more servers, the company decided to purchase two of the XA35 devices, which cost about $35,000 each.

"The way we looked it, we would have had to buy 100 servers and invest in a huge server farm to do the (data) transformations," said Lamb. "Now I think we can pull it off with four servers at the application level and one or two XA35 boxes."

Lamb said the investment provided a clear return on investment, particularly because LeaderPhone's application did not need significant modification to work with the DataPower hardware. The application now takes one-twelfth the time needed earlier to render the data for different devices, Lamb said.

The second version of DataPower's XA35 speeds up encryption processing that uses the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) standard. The upgrade can also compress XML documents and work in conjunction with Gigabit Ethernet networking hardware to improve performance.