A Competitive Review of SOA Appliances
The idea of appliances is not new. Packaged, self-contained, specialized servers have been performing tasks such as network gateways, firewalls and email cleansing for years. The attraction of an appliance is that access to the internals is restricted by the hardware form factor, and its specialized role enables hardware and software efficiencies that would not be possible in a general purpose server environment. As a result, appliances have the reputation of being tamper-proof, easy to install and configure and ideal for mechanical and repetitive operations.
Meanwhile, service oriented architecture (SOA) continues to grow in popularity, being adopted across more and more of the enterprise and partner value chain as companies seek greater agility, visibility and closer alignment of IT to business needs. As a result SOA network traffic, based around the self-defining XML data format, is growing exponentially and broadening to touch more and more domains and environments. This makes areas such as security, traffic management and the overhead of XML processing major concerns. In addition, the constantly growing SOA infrastructure continues to get more complex as more moving parts are added.
SOA appliances were introduced to address precisely these concerns. The idea is to offer a dedicated, fixed-purpose environment of specialized and highly optimized hardware and software in a robust and secure package. This environment will not only handle SOA and XML security, processing and governance needs, but will also mitigate SOA risk, reduce costs and increase efficiency. The market is growing, and a number of SOA appliance vendors have emerged; some are the usual SOA suspects like IBM and TIBCO, while others are specialist appliance vendors like Layer 7. Even Intel has decided to enter the fray with a rather unusual software version of the SOA appliance model, which seems a contradiction in terms.
This assessment takes a look at the SOA appliances being offered by three of these vendors, and considers where these offerings best fit in addressing SOA needs. The TIBCO appliance does not really fit in the SOA appliance category since it only offers a hardware implementation of the TIBCO Rendezvous messaging product, and so TIBCO is not included in this review. Summarizing the conclusions of this assessment, for general SOA needs the most comprehensive SOA appliance portfolio with the maximum opportunity for benefit comes from IBM. The Layer 7 range competes in the areas of security and governance, while the Intel ‘soft appliance’ may be of interest to organizations not wanting the more robust hardware form factor. However, whichever supplier is selected, the SOA appliance will most certainly be taking its place as an important element of an overall SOA deployment. While not suitable for all SOA needs, the efficiency, security, performance and simplification offered by SOA appliances makes them something that all SOA adopters should take into close consideration.