Turning Integration on Its Head

By John Moore  |  Posted 2007-07-19
Integration was once the province of custom-built adapters that linked one system to another. The resulting point-to-point integration created a tangle of interfaces that were difficult to maintain. Then came middleware and enterprise application integration offerings that sought to make custom integration a commercial product.

Since 2000, service-oriented architecture, or SOA, has taken up the integration banner. This approach replaces proprietary middleware and enterprise application integration technologies, with Web services as the standard protocol set for doing so.

Web services, which provide common building blocks for assembling service-oriented architectures, use protocols based on eXtensible Markup Language (XML), a data format that lets applications share data. With Web services, an application exposes its functionality—order processing, for example—as a modular service that other applications may request. The XML-based Simple Object Access Protocol, or SOAP, lets the service requester and provider exchange messages—requests for data—via HyperText Transfer Protocol. A message broker routes the messages to the right place.

And, as the technology changes, so have the vendors that provide enterprise application integration. Old-line integration software vendors such as WebMethods, IBM and Tibco Software have exchanged proprietary technology for Web services as they take on service-oriented architecture.

Susan Eustis, president of WinterGreen Research, a Lexington, Mass., market research firm, says the enterprise integration vendors' heritage has positioned them for the SOA market. "Those integration products became the SOA engine," she says.

The engine, a collection of software components, incorporates many of the functions of enterprise application integration products, including the core messaging capability that lets applications communicate in a service-oriented architecture. According to WinterGreen, other SOA engine elements include portals and application servers.

Eustis says the enterprise application integration vendors' technical background and sizable installed base give them an advantage over newer entrants in the SOA market.

A WinterGreen report released in May cites IBM as leading the SOA engine market with a 53% share. Tibco, BEA Systems and WebMethods have market share, but none above 3%, according to the firm. Microsoft, Oracle and SAP also are active in the space. Overall, the research firm predicts that the worldwide SOA engine market will more than triple, to $3.7 billion in revenue in 2013, from less than $1 billion in 2006.

The integration vendors' repositioning in service-oriented architecture gives their installed base a leg up in SOA migration, according to some observers.

"Most definitely they can reapply this existing technology for SOA," says Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst at Baltimore-based ZapThink, which specializes in service-oriented architecture research.

"That's a huge jump-start," Eustis adds. "They have the engine in place and don't have to go through the agony of installing an engine."

Vendor Challenges

The use-what-you-have argument doesn't always win out, however. The European Organization for Nuclear Research, better know as CERN, decided to scrap its messaging infrastructure as it built a new control system.

That system, Technical Infrastructure Monitoring, keeps tabs on CERN's machinery, which includes the world's largest particle accelerator. The organization had been using middleware vendor Talarian's SmartSockets messaging software, a product Tibco picked up in its 2002 acquisition of Talarian.

"Instead of just upgrading the software, we took the chance to rethink the solution," says Peter Sollander, technical infrastructure operations department manager at CERN.

Today, CERN uses Progress Software's SonicMQ messaging software, which supports Web services protocols such as SOAP. This take on a SOA engine has the reliability and fail-over features the physics laboratory requires. For example, if one SonicMQ message broker shuts down, a redundant broker automatically takes over, Sollander says.

Progress represents another take on service-oriented integration: the enterprise service bus. Enterprise service bus products handle the same linkage chores as the IBMs and Tibcos of the world, but were designed from the start as a standards-based approach to integration.

Enterprise service bus supporters also contend that the technology is better suited to event-driven architecture, an approach for building systems that respond to events in real time.

In CERN's case, the laboratory needed an event-driven control system. The Technical Infrastructure Monitoring system collects data from thousands of monitoring points. Important changes, like a power supply tripping a circuit breaker, cause the system to generate an event, which is published to the system and distributed to whatever application or person is interested in the information, according to Sollander.

Vendors moving beyond the enterprise application integration space, however, are adopting the enterprise service bus nomenclature and pursuing event-driven architecture. IBM, for one, announced its WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus in 2005. Tibco, for its part, says it has been providing event-driven architecture solutions for years, citing its work with financial customers.

Beyond Integration

Vendors are also pushing into the development and governance aspects of service-oriented architecture. SOA links disparate applications, but plays another role as a software design philosophy focused on creating reusable services.

As services proliferate, organizations need tools to catalog them so developers can see what's available—and avoid reinventing the wheel. They may also require software for monitoring the performance of services in a production environment.

In response, integration vendors either acquire companies specializing in service-oriented architecture governance or develop their own wares. WebMethods took the former tack in 2006, acquiring Infravio for $38 million. That deal brought with it a registry for tracking services and governance software. Tibco followed the build approach in its launch last year of ActiveMatrix, which provides service development and governance products.

But while WebMethods and its peers expand their offerings, the companies aren't expected to forsake their integration roots. Mark Carlson, director of the independent WebMethods user group and president of Conneva, an Evergreen, Colo., consulting firm, says remembering the fundamentals is crucial. "Successful SOA," he says, "depends on and requires a successful integration layer.": Setting the Standard">

SOA: Setting the Standard

What it is:
The concept of reusing or recombining components of a software or systems architecture. Web services—applications that let companies exchange data with customers and partners—can play a key role in building a service-oriented architecture.

Key Players:
BEA Systems, Cape Clear, Fiorano, IBM, Iona Technologies, Microsoft, Oracle, Progress Software, SAP, Sun Microsystems, Tibco Software, WebMethods (acquired by Software AG)

What's Happening:
Sales in the worldwide SOA market are expected to more than double by 2010, according to WinterGreen Research. Driving the growth are more mature product offerings by early market leaders like BEA, Tibco and WebMethods, along with the expanding presence of large vendors such as IBM, Oracle and SAP.

Market Size:
$989.7 million in worldwide sales in 2006 (WinterGreen Research)