Web services, EAI on convergence course

Web services and application integration technologies are moving full-speed ahead on their convergence course, and this week that destiny will ring truer than ever before.

A bellwether of this phenomenon, Dublin, Ireland-based Iona Technologies PLC, which made its name in EAI (enterprise application integration) software, will announce in San Francisco this week that it is reorganizing itself and is pulling every facet of the company together behind Web services.

Iona is not abandoning EAI but banking on integration as a key piece of Web services, said John Rymer, vice-president of product marketing at Iona’s U.S. offices in Waltham, Mass. “Iona’s business is integration and it always has been, that’s what we do,” Rymer said.

As part of its realignment, Iona will be restructuring its products into two lines: a Web services integration platform and an application server platform.

Rymer said that the Web services integration platform is the union of Iona’s business-to-business software, enterprise integration environment, and its XMLBus, a Web services toolkit. The application server stack is where the J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) and CORBA technologies come in, and the XMLBus is included as well.

Both product lines will be capable of running in conjunction with other J2EE vendors’ software. The Web services integration piece can run on BEA Systems Inc.’s WebLogic and IBM Corp.’s WebSphere application servers, for example.

With this release, Iona hopes to bridge the gap between Microsoft Corp.’s .Net Web services initiative and a plethora of existing legacy systems housing data possibly vital to the success of Web services, Rymer said, adding that Iona’s platforms are complementary to .Net. “Microsoft has never taken on the challenge of integrating mainframes into their environment,” he said.

BEA is also working to interoperate with .Net. “You’re going to see the two co-leaders, in IBM and BEA, very aggressively” trying to work with .Net, said Scott Dietzen, CTO of the e-commerce server division at San Jose, Calif.-based BEA.

In fact, BEA’s recently acquired Crossgain group will enable third-party toolsets to work with its application server stack and increase ease of use. The company has strong relationships in place with tools vendors Borland and WebGain.

“In three years, the integration vendors are going to be building on top of either .Net or J2EE,” Dietzen said.

Analysts said that whether or not the integration vendors – namely WebMethods Inc., Vitria Technology Inc., Tibco Software Inc., and SeeBeyond Technology Corp. – port their products to particular application servers, which would be a massive job, or just make them work better together is unclear.

“The Java services are not quite mature enough for full EAI,” said Shawn Willett, a principal analyst at Sterling, Va.-based Current Analysis Inc. “This technology is going to be essential, and companies will want it in-house.”

To that end, last week IBM scooped up CrossWorlds for its industry-specific middleware that enhances Big Blue’s integration for Web services. Big Blue also announced that Bowstreet’s Business Web Factory runs with WebSphere.

And with Web services in mind, IBM announced last week that it’s working with Microsoft on a potential standard, called Web Services-Inspection. It’s intended to be a start toward investigating the XML-based Web services of known companies. IBM and Microsoft have toolkits available to hasten acceptance.

Other third-party vendors will be following in the footsteps of Iona, BEA, and IBM.

SilverStream Software Inc., in Billerica, Mass., is slated to make available this week its eXtend suite for integrating systems and building Web services. Also this week San Diego-based Peregrine Systems Inc. will release Business Integration Suite, a bundling of EAI and B2B integration technologies, business process management, and trading community capabilities.

Although Web services alone won’t eliminate the integration headaches that continue to plague application-heavy enterprises, they “will tend to make things a lot easier,” said Robert Mick, an analyst at ARC Advisory Group Inc., in Dedham, Mass. “Web services will work [their] way into integration architectures.”

Sam Costello is a Boston-based correspondent for the IDG News Service.