EAI seeks to remold

Driven by the demands of Web services, EAI (enterprise application integration) vendors are maneuvering to reposition their technologies as companies seek long-term application integration solutions and evaluate competing offerings from application server vendors.

EAI heavyweights such as Vitria Technology, webMethods, SeeBeyond Technology, and Tibco Software are eagerly incorporating support for Web services standards and attempting to march up the application stack with value-added services on top of their platforms.

At the same time, EAI specialists targeting low-end or vertical markets are using Web services to add basic integration capabilities that eliminate the need for proprietary APIs.

Illustrating the shift at the high-end, webMethods plans to add support for JCA (Java Connector Architecture) adapters to its platform this summer so the system can "dumb itself down," allowing companies to plug third-party JCA adapters into the webMethods platform.

The company views Web services as a way of providing additional functionality -- such as high-speed broker communications and business process management and monitoring -- on top of its platform, said Scott Opitz, webMethods' senior vice president of strategic planning.

Although Web services will provide a way to standardize what have historically been proprietary APIs in packaged applications, they don't accomplish integration. Instead, Web services will require some of the functionality already built into existing EAI platforms, Opitz added.

"Integration is accomplished by getting the data out of these systems," Opitz said. "Web services does nothing to describe how the data is organized, [and] I need the ability to do transformation. Now that I can understand the data, I have to exchange data between all these different systems."

Meanwhile, Vitria recently added Web services support to its BusinessWare Integration Platform, and rolled out a new business process intelligence tool last year to allow companies to define, analyze, and optimize business processes in real-time.

"The integration landscape is definitely undergoing some pretty fundamental changes," said Malcolm Lewis, vice president of industry communications at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Vitria. "There is this pent-up market demand to get away from this plumbing activity and get to the value-add of process management."

That sentiment is reflected in a recent Gartner report that noted various specialized, low-end integration vendors are expected to add basic integration capabilities such as data transformation and content-based routing this year.

These vendors -- which specialize in technology areas such as EDI (electronic data interchange) or adapters for vertical industry applications -- can supply 80 percent of the integration needs for developers now using the high-end suites for mundane tasks such as transforming and routing data, according to the report.

In addition, these vendors are placing additional pressure on high-end EAI vendors by embracing Web services.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Actional Corp. has a product called SoapSwitch, currently in beta testing, designed to make packaged applications immediately available as Web services. Actional has traditionally threatened high-end vendors with its Control Broker, which allows application integration without inserting new middleware or a centralized EAI infrastructure.

Meanwhile, application server vendors are applying their own pressure by not only using Web services and adapters for integration purposes, but also offering integration servers themselves. Companies leading this charge include BEA Systems Inc., IBM Corp., and iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions.iPlanet used the JavaOne show last week to discuss how it is stitching its integration server, JCA adapters, and portal server together. To that end, iPlanet is looking to provide integration at the portal level, back-end systems level, and XML level, said Dave Hearn, director of business integration at iPlanet.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company added support for WSDL (Web Services Description Language) import capability, which eases integration with Web services and other applications that support the Web services standards. iPlanet enhanced its integration server with XAB (XML Adapter Designer) to provide integration at the XML level.

Gautam Desai, an analyst at market research company Doculabs Inc. in Chicago, said about 25 percent of development work for integration within enterprises is homegrown, meaning companies are relying heavily on application servers for this work.

"[Application vendors] are starting to really provide extremely intelligent adapters that can perform really well and get the job done as a much cheaper solution than having to buy a whole integration solution," Desai said.

Meanwhile, EAI vendors are attempting to retain their hold on enterprise customers by touting packaged solutions vs. specific tools, applying Web services to traditional offerings such as transformation and transaction integrity features.

Companies including Vitria, Tibco, and webMethods started this trend recently, lobbing packaged EAI solutions at specific verticals from health care to financial services.

According to vendors, these solutions incorporate relief for common integration woes faced by industries -- such as transaction processing in financial services -- and allow enterprises to "buy rather than build" integration solutions.

For example, webMethods is scheduled to introduce a new set of integration solution suites this week designed to meet the requirements of the retail banking, wholesale banking, and securities industries.

Doculabs' Desai said these solutions will work only in markets where the integration projects address commoditized business processes performed by competing companies. These companies are unlikely to want to expose trade secrets via a common vertical integration solution, Desai said.

"We'll see this especially in areas like HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] ... where there are a lot of benefits for having a common process flow," Desai said. "Usually it is driven by legislature. It's kind of like the Y2K problem turned into an industry problem with a government-imposed deadline."

The bottom line for enterprise users is they must take a hard look at the new technology, keeping in mind that the standards for Web services and Java-based EAI are not mature yet, said Shawn Willett, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va.

"If I already have an EAI platform in-house, it's going to be cheaper to just add on to what I already have," Willett said. "With new projects, companies are going to have to look at these options and look at the cost savings."

But there will always be a high-end of the market, in which companies will most likely want a traditional EAI system for the next five years to 10 years, Willett added.

(Additional reporting by Tom Sullivan).

EAI feels the pinch

Traditional EAI vendors are being squeezed by several emerging factors.

-- Web services are emerging as an option for integrating applications.

-- Traditional low-end integration vendors are incorporating more generalized integration functions.

-- Application server vendors are adding integration servers to their stacks.

-- Nonproprietary technologies such as Java and JCA adapters are emerging.

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