WebMethods bundles JBoss app server

Looking to fend off challenges from BEA Systems Inc., IBM Corp., and other rivals, webMethods Inc. this week is unfurling a major overhaul of its flagship integration platform that deepens its Java support, bundles in the JBoss open-source application server, and revs up performance and scalability.

Set to debut at the vendor's Integration World show in San Francisco, webMethods 6.0 also unifies the company's splintered product set by fully incorporating EAI (enterprise application integration) technologies from Active Software, a company webMethods acquired in July 2001. The unified platform will reduce the number of tools and adapter sets, boost performance, and provide a more "elegant" solution overall, said Jim Green, CTO at the Fairfax, Va.-based firm.

More significantly, webMethods' bundling of J2EE-compliant JBoss is meant to hammer home its notion that the integration platform should serve as the core element of the infrastructure, feeding all other layers in the enterprise stack, Green said. This puts it in stark contrast to app server giants such as BEA, who are looking to grab market share in the EAI space by building integration capabilities on top of their largely commoditized offerings.

"We don't want to be in the app server business, but we do think that if you automate across the enterprise and make things network-aware, then there are various steps in the process that represent significant business logic that you'll need to host as well," Green said. "We say build the app server on top of the integration system, since we span all systems in the enterprise."

To make this work, however, webMethods needed a way to host application source code to blend together with its own integration logic, something that "BEA did not want to help us with," Green joked.

JBoss technology, available free of charge and used fairly widely in some large enterprises, will enable Java-developed business logic -- typically the domain of an application server -- to be accessed and manipulated from inside the integration platform, he said. JBoss hosts Enterprise Java Bean containers.

Green contends that combination will help lower licensing costs, by not requiring enterprises to buy a separate app server for their development needs, and will serve to streamline business processes and reduce management overhead through the use of a single console to keep tabs on the unified platform.

"The bottom line is that in the past, to write an app and integrate it with legacy systems you had to buy both [an application server and integration server]. Now you don't," Green said.

One industry analyst said that while JBoss brings webMethods the benefits of scalability, fault tolerance, and load balancing, it doesn't provide the ties to development tools that building your product on top of a commercial app server such as BEA's WebLogic or IBM's WebSphere would bring.

"They are getting some of the benefits of an app server, but not everything," said Shawn Willett, principal analyst at Sterling, Va.-based Current Analysis. Nonetheless, he said, JBoss will make it easier to bring in Java tools to accomplish task such as caching, he added.

Corporate Express, a Broomfield, Colo.-based distributor of office products for Fortune 1000 companies that uses webMethods for both its internal and b-to-b integration, six months ago standardized on JBoss, deeming the product technically superior to WebLogic and WebSphere.

"We are really looking forward to having JBoss in [webMethods 6] because it helps us with our strategy," said Andy Miller, vice president of technology architecture at Corporate Express.

Miller said webMethods 6 will enable the company to take J2EE application logic they already have and deploy it within a particular integration scenario. "Then you can reuse those same EJB components in your next integration without having to [go] out and find it again," Miller said.webMethods is also touting Version 6's unification with Active Software. Previous versions of the platform have been somewhat fragmented: an EAI engine, tools, and adapters from Active, and a separate b-to-b integration broker that marks webMethods' original roots. To bridge that gap, webMethods provided a somewhat clunky business-process-management-like layer that has fueled complaints from some users.

Other new features include a global publish/subscribe tool as well as hierarchical queuing to account for differences in the speed with which individual apps can handle incoming data during integration.

The company has flooded Version 6 with additional support for Java standards including Java servlets, Java Server Pages, JCA-compliant adapters, and JMS (Java Message Service). However, with Web services a key part of its strategy going forward, webMethods will not overlook Microsoft's .Net environment, Green said.

"We will be supporting more .Net features in the future," he said.

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