Spin's not the thing for integration

Big IT vendors are confusing "unwary" IT managers with their spin on XML and Web services. As part of their sales spiel, vendors are claiming Web Services will replace EAI (enterprise application integration).

An applications architect from a state Government department, who requested anonymity, said his department has been investigating Web services for the past 18 months. He said claims by vendors that Web services will replace EAI are "one of those sales pitch 'silver bullet' scenarios".

"Really it's just another technique but has come out of standards rather than vendor specific."

He added that his main concern about XML is, it is "being sold as a total solution where it's certainly not".

"XML is an enabler that really just levels the playing field for application integration," he said.

Paul Singh, IT manager for book publisher Harlequin Enterprises, said vendors "sort of" say Web services will replace EAI.

Singh said Harlequin is not investigating Web services at the moment, but integration is a big issue.

"We recently migrated our e-commerce site to Intershop and also upgraded our hosting facility which is in Canada. We are in touch with a few vendors on different requirements on CRM and B2B requirements; if we select any new application we will be going towards XML," he said.

"I have some knowledge of XML and we have to explore it more to see if it becomes industry standard worldwide for B2B data communication; then we will be taking that path," he said.

Singh said he wants to know about "XML advantages, companies that have recently adopted XML standards, some case studies and some technical information on both and a comparison with other technologies".

"How large the change will be? What are the business risks in not adapting this [XML and Web services] technology?, What is the cost?" he asked.

According to integrator Mercator Software general manager Nathan Bray, vendors who claim that standardising on XML will be the way of the future are "leading IT managers down a path that introduces conversion problems that don't need to exist".

"Who speaks Esperanto?" Bray asked. "People might speak it, but Esperanto will never replace French. Similarly XML will just be another language. It won't replace the languages that are already in use.

"While XML is good, making it the standard is a short-term fix that will create long-term headaches. Introducing [XML as a standard language] will introduce risk, complexity and expense," Bray said.

Sketching complex diagrams, Bray pointed out that IT giants from all sides of the selling fence, whether they be pitching EAI, Web services or XML, "gloss over the middle stuff", representing it as a fluffy white cloud.

"But there are multiple steps in the middle with multiple points of failure," he said. "If you are already converting SAP to Oracle, why convert to XML as well in the middle".

He also said despite vendor spiel to the contrary, Web services will not replace EAI and companies will still need to do application integration before introducing Web services.

"Most businesses in Australia haven't finished integrating their applications yet. Last year organisations didn't know what EAI was. Web services is at the same stage today," he said.

Bray's opinions reflect analyst findings. In a recent IDC survey on EAI, respondents were asked what impact Web services would have on this problem. The answer was "universally zero".

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