Tools link Web services to existing applications

IT executives looking for logical entry points into the confusing world of Web services are finding relief in software that provides connectors to adapt existing applications and systems to the emerging technology.

Actional Corp. next month will ship SoapSwitch, software with a set of connectors for automatically creating Web service interfaces to existing applications and a routing engine to manage, monitor and analyze network traffic tapping into those interfaces. The product is an evolution of the vendor's enterprise application integration product, Actional Control Broker.

And last week, Cape Clear Software Inc. shipped version 3.5 of its CapeConnect platform, which adds connectors for packaged software such as Microsoft's Great Plains and SAP's enterprise resource planning applications. Cape Connect 3.5 also includes an integration platform for building custom connectors and for converting stored procedures in SQL databases to Web services. Cape Clear also unveiled CapeStudio 3.0, its Web service development tool.

The software is middleware that automatically retrofits back-end enterprise systems with Web services technology, a collection of standard-based interfaces, such as the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML). The middleware then hosts or indexes the resulting Web service interfaces, providing other applications or systems a centralized point and a standard means to access back-end data and processes.

The concept of adapting existing back-end systems to Web services using a middleware layer is already paying off for some end users.

The Innovation Group (TIG), a consulting firm in Raleigh, N.C., is using Actional's SoapSwitch in a pilot project to create Web service interfaces into the IBM OS/390 mainframe used by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

"We want to modernize the legacy systems and deliver components across a distributed computing environment," says Jeff Chancellor, director of engineering for TIG.

Chancellor used SoapSwitch to turn into Web services the processes of a mainframe application for creating a health assessment on an individual. The mainframe application had been fitted with Java and Component Object Model (COM) wrappers so it could be accessed through the Web. Chancellor said it took 30 minutes for SoapSwitch to automatically turn 16 COM interfaces into Web services. The resulting Web services are indexed on SoapSwitch using the Web Services Description Language and are available to any application or system.

"Now we can call the mainframe service in a standard way regardless if the front end is developed in Java, Java Server Pages, Active Server Pages or anything else," Chancellor says. "We didn't want to tamper with the mainframe; we just wanted to harvest its data. And the whole idea of component reuse and the fact we don't have to do any back-end work means our development time is reduced by nearly 50 percent."

SoapSwitch helps create Web service interfaces to packaged applications including SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle, and JD Edwards. It also can generate interfaces to Java, COM, CORBA, and IBM's CICS and MQSeries. SoapSwitch includes a SOAP message routing engine and user- and role-based security, performance management and monitoring tools.

"Actional is saying we can give you the connectivity and we can put together logical routing with management and security," says Tim Sloane, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group.

Actional competes with companies such as Systinet, Shinka, Cape Clear and other enterprise application integration vendors such as WebMethods and Tibco. Also, platform vendors Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle are producing Web service middleware products.

Actional's SoapSwitch is expected to ship next month and runs on Windows NT and 2000, and Sun Solaris. Pricing was not announced. CapeConnect 3.5, which is available now, is priced at US$10,000 per server and runs on Windows NT and 2000, Sun Solaris and Linux. CapeStudio 3.0 is priced at $2,500.