IBM plans to release enterprise service bus

IBM intends to release an enterprise service bus (ESB) next year, a move likely to raise the profile of the relatively nascent but potentially far-reaching integration technology.

In a briefing with Computerworld editors this week, John Swainson, IBM's general manager of application development and integration, said the company will deliver "an enterprise-class messaging bus that would attach everything to everything." Swainson said IBM's ESB will enable companies to put existing messaging traffic in an environment that allows "every application to talk to this bus."

ESBs typically use messaging technology combined with a service-oriented architecture, XML, Web services protocols and intelligent routing to tie together disparate systems. Vendors and analysts say it's a less costly alternative to proprietary integration approaches, and they expect widespread adoption.

'Disruptive Technology'

Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, in a report released in March, called ESBs a "disruptive technology." And Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. said it will become a major market force.

Despite rave reviews from analysts, ESB adoption remains low. One integration vendor, Tibco Software Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., maintains that there isn't enough customer demand to offer the technology. And the reason for that, said Matt Quinn, the company's chief architect, is that an ESB works for low-level integration problems but won't help a company manage complex business processes.

But ESB vendors Sonic Software Corp. in Bedford, Mass., and SpiritSoft Ltd. in Boston said IBM's decision to build an ESB will draw attention to a technology that remains in the very early stages of customer adoption.

IBM validates the market, said Robert Davies, chief technology officer at SpiritSoft, "and that's good for everybody."

Another vendor that may also be giving credibility to the ESB concept is Microsoft Corp. At its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles next week, Microsoft will unveil its "Indigo" programming model. But Gartner analyst Roy Schulte said Indigo will include features similar to those used in ESBs.

Those characteristics include Web services, the equivalent of message-oriented middleware, simple intelligent routing and a distributed peer-based architecture rather than an architecture built around a central hub, said Schulte.

Although ESB technology is based on open standards, a standard is missing that "pulls them all together," said Gordon Van Huizen, chief technology officer at Sonic. Van Huizen said he expects to see several competing implementations of ESBs before standards agreements are reached.

The standards issue worries one early adopter, Jon Johnson, chief engineer at defense contractor Northrop Grumman Mission Systems in Colorado Springs. Johnson, a Sonic user, said adoption of open standards reduces costs because it eliminates the need for custom interfaces. Consequently, he can rely on the skills of his IT staff rather than having to pay consulting fees.

But Johnson said a failure by vendors to agree on a standard for the underlying architecture could lead to proprietary protocols, reducing the benefits of ESBs.

Sonic and some other vendors have been working with Sun Microsystems Inc. on a Java Specification Recommendation, JSR208, that will be used for ESB systems. IBM is not part of the effort, but a company spokeswoman said it's looking at the JSR and is committed to open standards.

IBM's ESB will be offered along with its messaging platform MQSeries, but the company declined to comment on how it will be priced.

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