No one proclaimed it a movement, but Intel Corp.'s purchase of XML networking vendor Sarvega Inc., coupled with Cisco Systems Inc.'s Application-Oriented Networking foray, has put some major corporate muscle behind the notion that Web services can and will rely on a service-oriented network backbone.
Those watching the XML networking space only expect it to become more crowded with vendors like Nortel Networks Ltd., 3Com Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. among the possible next wave of entrants.
"There's a great big picture battle going on here about where the intelligence in a service-oriented architecture should lie," said Jason Bloomberg, an analyst for ZapThink LLC. "On one hand you have the message-centric middleware model, on the other is the intelligent network approach."
Bloomberg explained that, as XML devices, chip sets and network agents mature, they could take over the space traditionally occupied by integration software, eliminating the middleman, if you will.
"If we do service-oriented architecture right, the integration becomes the byproduct of the architecture," he said. "Then you'll be able to make security decisions, apply policies and have all your services intermediaries in the network itself."
Eugene Kuznetsov, chief technology officer for XML networking pioneer DataPower Technology Inc., argued that this is the direction in which the market will inexorably head.
"It's finally starting to hit people that this is much more than XML acceleration or Web services security," he said. "It's about application integration."
The method itself isn't so radical. It follows the current TCP/IP model of information sent out from nodes and handled by devices and proxies in the middle, yet Kuznetsov believes that the level of complexity and detail that can be achieved with XML makes the new service-oriented network model a fundamentally different animal than the traditional TCP/IP network.
In particular he mentioned new form factors, including the ability to embed XML processing capabilities in Ethernet switches and blade devices, as a challenge that must be met.
Bloomberg believes that's part of the reason why Intel has purchased Sarvega, "whose entire intellectual property was in software." He sees Intel as being able to incorporate Sarvega's XML functionality in its chips, enabling it to be placed in multiple devices along the network.
The ultimate goal is to get to a "fire-and-forget" network model for Web services, according to Larry Neumann, vice president for marketing at Ontario-based Solace Systems Inc.
"I don't want to know how to communicate as an application with every endpoint," he said. "And, really, I shouldn't have to. The network should be able to take care of that for me."
Solace Systems envisions much of this functionality being handled through network carriers rather than by machines that sit inside the enterprise itself.
Kuznetsov was quick to note that a fully fleshed out service-oriented network will be the combination of multiple efforts on multiple fronts. One of the problems he sees with the current market is that it incorporates multiple approaches, none of which have been clearly categorized.
"We've got 10 different terms that mean more or less the same thing," he said. "It's a category without a name and every newcomer tries to redefine it, though, boiled down, it all involves smart intermediaries that operate on messages."
Neumann agreed that XML networking was a powerful idea in need of some classification.
"All business messages need to be simple to be understood and that's one of the problems with XML, only the real technology-heads get it," he said.
Perhaps Bloomberg's on the right track when he refers to it as "a middleware-free approach to integration." In no uncertain terms he believes that concept will gain traction in the coming months and years.
"You should be able to abstract the transport and make it separate from the service," he said. "It's a powerful concept and people are going to figure out how to do it."