Monday, July 13, 2009

Why is an XML Gateway a requirement?

The main two reasons to justify the capital expense of an XML Gateway are performance and security. When the enterprise deems those two reasons relevant it is a no-brainer to make the XML gateway a requirement.

Now let's take a simpler scenario where performance is not a problem and security is meant to be accomplished using SSL. I claim even in this scenario purchasing a dedicated server is a wise investment. Let's assume you intent to invoke web services from multiple partners. The number of partners could potentially be on the thousands. As is the case, currently most of this partners do not have any web services as of yet. So they start as usual writing it from scratch using something like .NET. These projects tend to be low key and usually prototypes, so the use of a gateway is not even considered.

Most scenarios, in addition to using SSL mutual auth to secure the connection and authenticate the client will use some sort of XML security such as signature verification. This will require the developer coding the business case to write the required code for the signature verification. This is no trivial task to get done correctly. Even with all the help the .NET framework gives you, there are many caveats the developer will have to be aware and most likely will not have time to properly code for. I see several problems with this approach:

  • The security of the deployment solely relies on the time and expertise of the developer writing the security piece. In most cases, verifying the signature is just a small piece of the puzzle, quite irrelevant to the business case. It is a necessary evil that needs to be done, but does nothing for the bottom line of the company.
  • Debugging the signature verification code is time consuming. Why bother re inventing the wheel when they are companies that specialize in doing this sort of thing?
  • The private keys are most likely sitting on the hard disk not properly secured. Whenever a new web services comes online the procedure will have to be repeated. This model is not scalable and at the end not cost effective.

Such use cases can be readily handled with an XML Gateway fronting all the security aspects: SSL termination, signature verification or any other security requirement. The XML Gateway centralizes all security aspects so that your developers can concentrate on the business case at hand. You can rely that your web service is properly secured without having to trust the individual ability of each developer. After all, the gateway is backed by a company so their reputation is always on the line. Private keys and certificates are on a central secured location not spread around in web servers around your organization. The Gateways are kept up-to-date with the security standards, no need to go back to every one of your coded applications to update the security aspects of it. At the end, you will have save money and time for your company and ensured the Web Service deployment is secured.

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