New buzzword, same old mess

Middleware is spaghetti that just keeps looping and layering new approaches over old. The industry keeps ladling more sauce over the mess, in terms of such nebulous nomenclature as enterprise application integration, enterprise information integration, business process management and message-oriented middleware.

The latest ingredient in the middleware recipe is the buzzphrase enterprise service bus (ESB). ESB has become primarily a marketing lure, promising simple, speedy, standards-based multipoint integration. Crack open most middleware vendors' literature these days and you'll find grandiose discourses on ESB that blur the boundaries between this approach and older paradigms.

If ESB has any substance it's primarily as the latest approach for reliable, guaranteed messaging. ESB middleware products leverage Web services standards and interface with established reliable-messaging MOM protocols such as IBM's WebSphere or Tibco Software's Rendezvous.

Common features of ESB products include the ability to bridge heterogeneous MOMs, wrap MOM protocols with Web Services Description Language interfaces and tunnel Simple Object Application Protocol (SOAP) traffic over MOM transports. Most ESB products support direct, peer-to-peer interactions among distributed applications through intermediaries such as integration brokers.

Vendors differ in their ESB support, but it's clear the market category is broad enough to encompass traditional MOM vendors, plus middleware companies such as SeeBeyond.

Enterprise IT professionals need integration products that are easy to install, configure, administer and manage. They need middleware that supports robust, standards-based, any-to-any integration. They need to address new integration requirements inexpensively and quickly, rather than in multi-year, high-risk, budget-busting megaprojects.

Can today's ESB products deliver all that? Hardly. The problem is not so much with today's products as with the plethora of middleware products, protocols and approaches that have taken root in many companies. Organizations have invested far too much money on middleware, and on integrating applications via legacy middleware, to throw it all out overnight and start anew.

Consequently, there is no single enterprise-wide "bus" in most companies, and such a bus is not likely to emerge any time soon. No ESB product can provide a single-bullet solution to the dizzying range of integration requirements. The best most organizations can do is layer standards-based integration environments over the stubborn heterogeneities of older environments.

The term ESB is just a catchall phrase referring to the convergence of MOMs and SOAP-based Web services. It connects the middleware meatballs on our collective plates.

James Kobielus is a senior analyst with Burton Group

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