At the recent Gartner SOA show in London, I was surprised to see a stand from Intel. Turns out Intel are striking back at the burgeoning SOA Appliances market.
The Intel claim is that its 'software appliance' performs at least as well as Appliances, and is therefore a better option.
The Intel argument is based on the fact that when you buy an appliance, you are locked in to the platform eg the box.
So, as time passes, your appliance misses out on latest hardware or chip developments since it is hard-wired.
In contrast, if the same performance can be obtained in pure software, then this has the advantage that it can be moved onto a platform with more power if needed, or as platforms are upgraded it can benefit.
And Intel claims that its sexy software can match or exceed appliance speeds because it is so highly optimized.This optimization is apparently all around the XML parser.
This makes sense in the SOA Appliance space because most SOA Appliances are employed to deal with high volumes of XML conversions.
The Intel claim is that it has a super-slick parser and that is how it can beat the Appliance.
This certainly throws up a new consideration when looking at the case for appliances, but of course it should be remembered that performance is not the only reason people buy them.
Off-loading from the production platforms is another reason, and not having to worry about the platform management is another (install, config, etc). However, the Intel argument is a good one.
Perhaps the biggest worry I have, however, is that whatever one company has done in software, someone else can do too, and unless it is patent protected, there would be nothing to stop an appliance maker coming up with a super-fast parser, and then putting it into microcode.
It seems to me that in the end hardware will always be faster than software.