Aether unveils building blocks

Software announced by Aether Systems Inc. last month is an ambitious attempt to simplify the work of letting sundry handheld devices wirelessly connect with existing corporate data.

Aether Fusion is intended as a set of building blocks that plug into a core server program that runs on Java application servers. It will blend several Aether products, including its AIM messaging middleware and ScoutSync data synchronization program. Users can then select the set of blocks that match their back-end applications, wireless nets and client devices.

If Aether is successful in stitching together these various components with new APIs, enterprise users should be able to link handheld users faster than before with critical corporate data, customer orders, inventory systems and accounts receivable, instead of just personal contact and scheduling information.

Traditionally, wireless applications are custom projects, costly and time consuming, said Warren Wilson, wireless practice director for consulting company Summit Strategies.

“Fusion defines wireless development in layers, connected by standard APIs, with software modules in each layer,” he said. “These just snap together. In theory, customers can specify their application needs, and Aether can just ‘go to the shelf’ and pull out the right set of modules to satisfy them.”

There are some available packaged middleware products that combine interfaces to some groups of back-end applications with support for various client devices, and a plethora of wireless development products from companies such as 724Solutions, 2Roam, ThinAirApps, AppForge and others. But few offer the range of capabilities planned for Aether Fusion, along with Aether’s billion-dollar cash reserve and experience in building wireless applications, according to Wilson.

Fusion will be available in two ways. Aether will use Fusion to create hosted applications for its customers, paid for by monthly fees. Or customers, systems integrators and value-added resellers can pay for a traditional software license, install Fusion and develop applications on it.

The software consists of five groupings of components.

Data adapters move data in and out of Open Database Connectivity-compliant databases or to specific enterprise applications such as SAP R/3 or others. The adapters communicate via the Simple Object Access Protocol with the second group of components, called services.

In this group are data synchronization, data streaming for video and voice and text-to-speech conversion.

The services run on the third group of components, called the core. These are a set of server programs, written in Java, on top of BEA Systems’ WebLogic Java application server. Included are authentication and other security programs, network management and session management. The fourth group is communications adapters, which connect the core to an array of local and wide-area wireless nets: 802.11b, Cellular Digital Packet Data, Mobitext and many others.

Finally, there are components that can run on various client operating systems, such as Palm OS, PocketPC and Windows CE. Some devices, such as handheld computers or PDAs, might get a client analogue of a communications adapter, so Fusion can optimize the specific network connection used by the device.

Fusion will be released this summer, and feature new mail and mobile collaboration services, new adapters to support instant messaging and Lotus notes. Existing users of ScoutSync, AIM and Aether’s MarketClip brokerage application will be upgraded automatically when Fusion-based versions of these programs are released.

Aether is at