Sun Microsystems Inc. Forte Fusion

InfoWorld (US)

EAI (enterprise application integration) is just a pipe dream for many facilities, with primitive, nightly database dumps being the most common way to share data among back-office applications. The faster pace of business makes the absence of real-time application integration a competitive handicap.

Sun Microsystems Inc. Forte Fusion is a fast, scalable EAI framework. Fusion links disparate applications and allows their data to cross platform, database, programming language, object model, and protocol boundaries on demand. Only a proprietary scripting language and nonreplaceable messaging and object repository components keep Forte Fusion R2 from achieving an Excellent rating in our evaluation. However, these factors should not sway you from choosing the otherwise remarkable Forte Fusion R2.

Given its expansive capabilities, Fusion R2 is surprisingly lightweight. We were impressed (and a bit amused, considering its source) by the review system Sun provided: a 300MHz Dell Latitude notebook running Windows NT Workstation 4.0. It ran Fusion R2 fine, but the sluggish hard drive got in the way. To more accurately gauge R2’s performance, I migrated it to a 1GHz AMD Windows 2000 Server.

Forte Fusion R2 relies on many of its own facilities. It uses its own messaging infrastructure, object database, scripting language, and XML/XSL (extensible stylesheet language) parser. Arguably, Fusion should allow the use of popular messaging middleware, such as Vitria or Java Messaging, and perhaps should also permit use of an external database server as an object store. Such tightly integrated components ease management and simplify development, but lack of support for external components may frustrate some companies, particularly if they have standardized on a messaging or repository solution. Fusion can talk to applications that use other middleware, but it needs dispensation to manage its internal messages and objects its own way.

The server side of the Fusion R2 architecture is dominated by its Conductor and Backbone modules. Fusion Conductor is Forte’s business process automation engine. It handles the process sequencing and the passing of objects (business data) between stages. Fusion Backbone manages business logic, data translation (using XSL), and communication with Fusion clients.

Creating an EAI solution using Fusion R2 requires little programming. Forte graphical development tools map out the business process and define the content of objects passed in and out of Fusion. To embellish Forte’s core business logic, you can write custom scripts in TOOL (transactional object-oriented language), Forte’s proprietary language.

TOOL’s eccentric blend of C and Basic syntax may be difficult for experienced developers to learn. I’d rather see a more familiar language such as JavaScript or Perl in this role, but TOOL uses typed variables — each variable can hold data only of its assigned type such as a number or a text string. That facility is hard to come by in a scripting language, so Forte gets a pass for inventing TOOL rather than using an existing language. Fortunately, TOOL doesn’t play too pivotal a role in development, and ample documentation is provided.

Fusion clients mediate communication between external enterprise applications and the Forte server. Clients for common enterprise applications, such as SAP and Vantive, are available as options. If a canned client won’t do, you’ll have to write your own in the programming language of your choice.

In its prior release, Fusion clients could communicate with the server using only XML objects transmitted over HTTP. Sun has enhanced R2 to support JavaBeans, CORBA, and DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model), allowing you to share data using applications’ native distributed object models. Sun deserves ample credit for this support and would be wise to continue Forte’s inclusive strategy, even though it is at odds with its own Java mandate. To ease communication with IBM back ends, Sun sells an adapter that links Fusion with MQSeries applications.

EAI clients are notoriously difficult to write because you must adapt to the EAI environment’s blessed language and API. Forte Fusion R2 allows you to use the object representation and programming language you’re most comfortable with. Developers writing in C++, Java, and Visual Basic will find Sun’s thorough documentation and copious code samples invaluable. Language-specific APIs abstract and simplify server discovery, process integration, object transfer, and failure recovery operations.

R2’s flexible, egalitarian approach to EAI creates new possibilities for cooperation among hitherto incompatible applications. The freedom to mix platforms, languages, object models, and protocols makes its few faults forgivable. If its self-contained repository and messaging engine don’t violate your architectural standards, Forte Fusion R2 is likely your best bet for EAI.

Senior Analyst Tom Yager can be contacted at


Forte Fusion R2

Business Case: Forte Fusion R2 is a flexible EAI framework that enables enterprise applications to share and access data in real time. Fusion cuts development time by managing data in each application’s native format, mostly without custom programming.

Technology Case: You use Forte tools to create a graphical map of your business process flow, define objects that carry data from one stage to the next, and write clients that execute the business rules for each stage. The process is aided by excellent documentation.


+ Broad platform, database, language, and distributed object model support

+ OS/390 server and client support provide a data bridge between modern and legacy systems

+ XML and XSL object definitions

+ Excellent tools, samples, and documentation


– Proprietary messaging, repository, and scripting

Cost: US$35,000+ for Fusion Professional edition; $180,000+ for full Fusion server with process engine

Platform(s): Compaq, HP, Sun, and IBM Unix; OS/390; Windows NT, Windows 2000

Sun Microsystems, Palo Alto, Calif.; (888) 843-5282;

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