NETWORKS: XML router gets rolled into message-passing job

-April 25, 2005

Colorado Springs, Colo. — Application-layer processing using Extensible Markup Language (XML) has become common enough to warrant standard silicon for XML processing and standard board-level blades for XML acceleration. Yet when Canadian startup Solace Systems Inc. was designing a router for application-to-application messaging, it chose to use custom silicon and a proprietary real-time OS for the resultant 3200 platform, its unique approach to messaging acceleration.

"We gave careful consideration to the merchant XML chips out there, but we did not find the scaling we needed, particularly given our use of unique routing protocols for application messaging," said Jonathan Bosloy, chief technology officer of Solace (Ottawa).

Solace sees its primary customer base as service providers who want to outsource data-center application services for large companies. XML was chosen at an early date as the lingua franca for all Layer 7 services.

Bosloy said the Solace design was based on full XML fields, requiring a full analysis of packet content. The system must use content-based routing tables analogous to header-based routing tables in IP routers, so a proprietary router protocol was required. Solace had to develop a routing protocol, similar to Open Shortest Path First on the IP layer, that could self-manage and dynamically update networks as new nodes were added and synchronize application-layer routing tables as the network is updated.

The virtualization of application services is performed in much the same way as virtual private networks are created at Layers 2 and 3. With proprietary accelerator silicon to manage Solace's unique routing protocols, multigigabit/second speeds can be handled for messaging, and new routers can be added to a network without changing software or servers.

In addition to its own FPGAs, Solace had to develop a hard-real-time operating system, SolOS, to handle the dynamic network creation. The 3200 system, its 3202 router modules, and the SolOS software, are all moving into general availability this month. A 3200 system can be configured with up to three router cards, and Solace is considering designing larger chassis-based systems if service providers want larger single-site nodes.

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