Startups unveil network-layer integration frameworks

The nature of application and data integration is changing. Although the early whisperings of the demise of EAI (enterprise application integration) are proving premature, the technology is now finding itself challenged by an expanding range of options.

Among EAI's new brethren are products focused on IDI (Internet data integration) and EBI (e-business integration). The latest category hatched last week when two startup companies that hope to create application integration frameworks at the network level made their case at the PC Forum conference in Phoenix.

KnowNow Inc., based in Menlo Park, California, and OpenDesign Inc., in Bellevue, Washington, both plan to roll out ambitious efforts aimed at moving responsibility for integrating applications away from the application layer in favor of the network layer.

According to executives at both companies, this software router approach makes more sense because it allows them to ascertain what type of data is coming into the enterprise at the edge of the network and then give the appropriate response.

OpenDesign's acting CEO Edward Jung, who prior to founding OpenDesign was one of the lead developers of Microsoft.NET, said that his company's platform will be capable of abstracting the logic in any given application in the enterprise.

The OpenDesign platform can then represent that application to another application at the edge of the network.

In contrast, most EAI tools today rely on logic running on the same server as the application with which they need to integrate.

Jung, who counts former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold among OpenDesign's backers, said the company expects to roll out its first pilot projects later this year.

Meanwhile, KnowNow is taking a slightly different approach in that its software sits at the edge of the network and examines network traffic.

Based on the traffic analysis, KnowNow's platform, which is currently in beta, can then prioritize that traffic toward the specific server where a given application resides.

Both companies are examples of an emerging school of thought that sees the network layer as the most efficient place to integrate applications.

"We're seeing that people are extremely frustrated about integration at the application layer," said Alan Rust, director of integration solutions at Tanning Technology, a consulting firm that specializes in integration solutions.

Rust continued that integrating at the network layer produces results more quickly than doing so at the application level.

The network layer adds another level of complexity. Companies need to understand what they want to accomplish beforehand and know the specific data-integration points they are targeting, cautioned Rust's colleague, Dominic Sagar, a solutions lead for integration strategies at Tanning.

"There are some logical components that can be moved into the network," said Jon Derome, an analyst at The Yankee Group, who added that such functionality includes data translation and transformation, security, and guaranteed messaging.

"Moving integration to the network won't resolve the whole EAI model," Derome said.

Derome added that he believes the integration market is changing, and that companies such as Vitria, Tibco Software, and WebMethods are focusing more on business process management and less on data transportation.

Meanwhile, companies such as Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, and Microsoft also are working toward including a certain degree of integration intelligence in middleware.

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