Web services users seek help from middleware

As companies increase their use of Web services to integrate existing applications and build new ones, many are eyeing enterprise service bus (ESB) middleware technology to help reduce their management and routing burdens.

Nine IT managers at Gartner's Application Integration and Web Services Summit in Los Angeles last week said they hope that ESBs will ease the complexity and cost of making Web services widely available across their systems.

For example, Ashiq Zaman, manager of the Kentucky state government's Office of Technology, said he wants to invest in ESB technology to help manage the commonwealth's Web services. The Web services expose data from back-end revenue and transportation systems running on mainframes to outward-facing Web applications based on .Net and Java. Kentucky residents can use the Web applications to pay taxes or renew their driver's licenses online.

"This will open new possibilities for us," Zaman said, adding that putting an ESB in between the different applications would also enable the state's IT staffers to better manage the process of modifying the Web services.

Technology Options

An ESB typically encompasses messaging technology like the Java Message Service or IBM's MQSeries middleware and supports Web services standards for transforming data formats, binding Web services together and routing them without having to write code to change interfaces.

"You want something in the middle that can translate and be transport-independent," said Gartner analyst Roy Schulte. He added, though, that one of the biggest challenges is choosing the right ESB product.

Pure-play ESB vendors such as Sonic Software and Cape Clear Software are best for companies that plan to use a variety of application servers, because they're designed to be vendor-neutral, Schulte said. The ESB offerings from vendors such as IBM and Oracle are best suited for users that are predominantly relying on their application servers, he said.

James Law, an applications programmer at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, said the health care organization has just begun using Web services standards for integration purposes. But he believes that an ESB could help lower management costs because application and system-to-system messaging could be managed from one software stack. "Now we have messaging in one place and the application infrastructure in a separate silo," Law said.

Chicago-based Health Care Service, an insurance company that operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield divisions in Illinois, Texas and New Mexico, is looking for ESB middleware to handle the routing of a growing stable of Web services that automate tasks for health care providers, such as looking up the benefits provided by various plans.

Bob Holzer, a solution architect at the insurer, said that using an ESB to make Web services more widely available would help eradicate some of the current duplication of work by developers in different parts of the company.

Vendors are stepping up their efforts to meet the demand for ESB products. For example, IBM last week unveiled WebSphereMQ Version 6, which was designed to let users create ESBs from a single Eclipse-based workbench.

In addition, users can now more easily turn MQSeries messages into Web services, said Scott Cosby, IBM's WebSphere product director. The new software is due for general release on May 24.

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