In-Depth

Here today, but in what way?

Manila, the capital of the philippines, is a perfect metaphor for the problem middleware, and enterprise application integration (EAI) middleware, in particular, is trying to solve. Manila suffers from heavy traffic and pollution during business hours, which is exacerbated by the motorcycle couriers delivering paperwork from corporate transactions. Instead of spaghetti code, it is crisscrossing motorcycles that tie together the isolated systems of various corporations.

In the Philippines' financial industry, for example, 80% of stock traders ask for paper, estimates Bill Ogilvie, chief operating officer for SecureTrade, an e-commerce company and application service provider (ASP) for financial services and banking. Ogilvie said in the Philippines, "the trades go to the stock transfer agent who prints the paper, takes it to the corporation for a signature, puts it on a motorcycle and delivers it to the owner - and the owner may have traded [the stock] again without the paper." The problem that plagues many Southeast Asian nations, he said, is lack of infrastructure. "There's no Fed wire, no automated clearinghouse, no way to transfer funds and credit card use is low."

SecureTrade, which is targeting developing nations in Southeast Asia, has developed a framework for business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce using ActiveWorks, an EAI solution from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Active Software; and Virtual DB, which integrates data from multiple sources into a single virtual database with no custom coding, from Enterworks Inc., Ashburn, Va. At the heart of this B2B framework will be the eXtensible Markup Language (XML), which Active currently supports and which the EAI market is embracing.

In the stock-trading application that SecureTrade has developed, the Enterworks Virtual DB is used to integrate the disparate databases of the 24 stock transfer agents in the Philippines stock exchange. ActiveWorks is then used to integrate the workflow of the transactions, delivering messages back and forth, said Ogilvie. "We went from T+40 [transaction plus 40 days to settle] to T+4, and we're prepared for T+0. An investor can go to the Internet instead of picking up the phone and calling the central depository. They can now go to SecureTrade and see all their holdings across all the transfer agents," he explained. Both brokers and investors will fill out online XML forms. ActiveWorks' XML adapter allows the data from the forms "to integrate with the applications of the exchange and the brokers," noted Ogilvie.

XML will also be at the heart of an automated tax filing and payment application for businesses to pay their Value Added Tax (VAT). Ogilvie said that in the Philippines, multinationals like Coca-Cola must pay a monthly VAT. He said they typically "cut a check, put it on a motorcycle, deliver it to the government bank, and get a deposit slip saying it's for the account of the Bureau of Internal Revenue." Ogilvie said SecureTrade has a beta app working for Coca-Cola that will allow the multinational company to fill out an XML form for the VAT and submit it over the Internet. It will then debit Coke's account and credit the government's, as well as be date stamped.

Active's support for XML was a key reason SecureTrade chose to build its infrastructure around ActiveWorks, in addition to its ease of use, Ogilvie said. SecureTrade also evaluated IBM's MQSeries. "I have 20 developers [who are] three years out of college, max. They're incredibly quick and sharp, they know Java," noted Ogilvie. "They picked up Active in a couple of weeks to [learn to] write adapters. With MQSeries, we evaluated it for six weeks and got nowhere."

Ogilvie also talked to Active about how XML would be integrated into ActiveWorks. "When we looked at how MQ would do XML, it just wasn't as fully integrated [as ActiveWorks]," he said. Support for emerging standards such as XML is important to SecureTrade, said Ogilvie, because the company intends to support the direction of the Global Straight Through Processing Association, an association of security brokers and dealers, which intends to stick to technology standards such as XML.

Niche players not alone

Manila is not alone in its problems. Integration is an issue everywhere. According to a Butler Group report, a typical global enterprise depends upon approximately 50 applications, 13 OSes and 10 DBMSs to run its business. No wonder middleware, which acts as the "glue" or plumbing that brings disparate systems together, is on a roll. According the 1999 Middleware and Businessware report from Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. (IDC), revenues in the worldwide middleware/businessware (real-time EAI) market will increase 438% from $2.2 billion in 1998 to $11.6 billion by 2003.

E-commerce is clearly a driver, which means companies must not only get a handle on internal application integration, but they must now be able to integrate with their supply-chain partners' and customers' systems - across both traditional platforms and new wireless platforms such as cell phones and PDAs (see "Converging technologies," p. 38). According to a recent Hurwitz Group report, 89% of companies interviewed indicated that they are moving to or are currently implementing e-business strategies, with 90% citing their EAI projects as key components in the process.

With such a hot market, it comes as no surprise that the software powerhouses are not going to let niche players like Active, Vitria Technology Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif., New Era of Networks (Neon) Inc., Englewood, Colo., and others run away with it. Witness the recent entries into the EAI market by companies such as Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif., and Saga Software Inc., Reston, Va., which have both rolled out new EAI solutions. And Sun Microsystems recently acquired Forté Software, which has an XML-based EAI product line, and recently announced its support for the XSL Transformation (XSLT) spec for data transformation among apps. Recommended by the World Wide Web consortium (W3C), XSLT enables one XML document to be transformed into another based on an XSL stylesheet.

"The integration market is starting to change," said Jeremy Burton, vice president of Internet platform marketing at Oracle. "There are a lot of new requirements brought about by a desire not just to integrate applications inside the business, but between businesses. There's an order of magnitude increase in the number of message exchanges between businesses, and there are new requirements in terms of the standards to build to.

"In the past, a lot of messaging infrastructure was proprietary," continued Burton. "For B2B, the Internet is the dominant medium, and XML has emerged as a standard for describing data. It made sense at this point to come out with a product that deals with these new requirements."

Oracle's new Integration Server provides an XML-enabled infrastructure for enterprises and e-business exchange. The Integration Server includes a message broker, queuing services, data transformation services and app adapter services. Out-of-the-box adapters are available to integrate Oracle Customer Relationship Management (CRM) products with ERP apps, including SAP R/3 and Oracle Applications. The product also works with other message brokers, such as IBM MQSeries and Tibco, and its open APIs allow it to work with TSI's Mercator transformation engine.

Said Burton, "XML is the key enabling technology in the integration server." He said the company is involved with XML on a number of levels, including the Open Applications Group's (OAG) efforts to develop XML standards for document types.

Saga Software's recently launched Saga- vista EAI solution was also built to support XML. "XML is native within Sagavista," said David Linthicum, chief technology officer. "It's a JMS [Java Messaging Service] object within Sagavista. We built from the ground up looking at XML." The JMS specification provides developers with a standard Java API for enterprise messaging services.

Like Oracle's offering, Sagavista offers a message broker for SAP R/3 and Saga's own EntireX and Natural/Adabas legacy products, in addition to other adapters. It is written in Java and runs on OS/390, NT and MVS, with support for Unix forthcoming. "Sagavista was built from the ground up to support dynamic distributed computing, which is different than most message brokers with a hub-and-spoke model," noted Linthicum. "It can be a set of processes running across hundreds of computers; you can have many message broker instances running across many servers."

Sagavista has a "good architecture," said Ross Altman, research director, application integration and middleware strategies, Gartner Group. "They've committed a lot of resources to building adapters, and they have a nice adapter development environment," he said. However, he points out that Sagavista still lacks workflow, or business process automation, which other EAI players already have.

On the plus side, Altman said Sagavista "runs in a mainframe and distributed environment, which most everybody else does not, although Neon [MQIntegrator] does. And it supports Software AG products, which is good if you have Adabas and EntireX. And they have their own JMS messaging built in; you can use theirs or MQSeries."

The fact that both Oracle Integration Server and Sagavista support XML is important, but not a differentiator, said Ross. Almost all of the EAI players, new and old, are building in XML support, whether from the ground up like Saga and Oracle, or as an enhancement, like the more established EAI vendors. "Using XML at this point isn't a distinction; they almost all have put in XML support," said Altman. "It's important to support XML, but for most people today, their XML support is basic. If you send them an XML document they'll be able to decode it. Very few vendors do anything that they couldn't do if XML didn't exist. XML itself is not a panacea standard."

To imagine that XML will enable all systems to be plug-and-play "is a bit of a pipe dream," said Altman. He points to Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) as a standard with a similar hope, and yet "they've been at it for 25 years" and the world is still not plug-and-play. What XML will be, he said, is "a useful catalyst" for data interchange and integration.

Today's businesses see it that way, too, and many are forging ahead with applications using XML, whether for internal or external integration. Miami-Dade Community College (MDCC), for example, is promoting XML as a common way to communicate with its employees and students, as well as with other higher education institutions throughout the state.

For example, the Florida college has built its own messaging system utilizing XML as part of a Web-based student registration system that needs to integrate with EntireX on the mainframe. "We started work on Web registration and needed a messaging system," said Steve Waters, project analyst for Web development, and key developer for Web and XML applications. "We came to the conclusion that XML is going to be the messaging structure people will use, whether for B2B or intracompany. We needed to send messages from a Java-based Web client to the mainframe. At that point, there was nothing on the mainframe to handle XML at all; we had to write [our] own parser for XML on the mainframe to handle message transport."

MDCC's work began prior to learning about Sagavista. The vendor and the college discovered they were moving in a similar direction. MDCC agreed to pilot Sagavista for exchanging messages between Oracle and EntireX, said Howard Murphy, director of computer services at MDCC. The pilot benefited both, he said. MDCC knew it had some shortcomings in its messaging system, and Saga was able to benefit from the work MDCC had done on the XML side, particularly the mainframe XML parser.

Eventually, MDCC plans to build Sagavista into the Web registration system, enabling the college to switch between its own messaging solution and Sagavista when appropriate. "If a message doesn't get through, Sagavista has the facility to keep retrying," Waters explained. "They also have a router, where we can say 'Here's one message, send it to seven places at the same time.' We can only send to one person, while they can send to many."

Added Murphy, "Application to application, we can custom tune our messaging to be more efficient than any vendor product. But as we move forward to different kinds of applications, we would develop a custom method of communication. Saga has developed that kind of general-purpose communication medium with Sagavista."

Since MDCC was already a Saga customer, going with Sagavista eliminated the need to deal with another vendor. In the EAI realm, " we want to reduce the number of vendors we work with," said Larry Chen, chief technology officer at Bidcom Inc., an ASP for the building industry. Founded in 1997, San Francisco-based Bidcom hosts business process modeling, collaboration and project management services for all parties involved in a construction project. The first phase of its business model is to eliminate, via the Web, the faxing and snail mail that goes on in the building industry. The second phase will be integrating systems, which will require an EAI and message broker solution. Chen said Bidcom will evaluate Oracle's Integration Server, as they are already an Oracle 8i customer.

XML is playing a key role in Bidcom's work today and will in the future, said Chen. "Our Version 1 project has XML; every document is modeled in XML. We have an internal schema that describes different documents. Data is stored in an Oracle database, and we have a 'cartridge' [container] that takes data from the database and the general XML representation. On the other side, we have XSL stylesheets; we combine XML/ XSL to generate the HTML."

Bidcom is now looking at messaging middleware, and talking to Oracle, although they have not made a decision on XML Server, said Chen. "But that's the direction we're going, to use messaging as a pipe and XML as the format for exchanging data across multiple systems. Oracle is going in the right direction in putting together an infrastructure to make our life much easier."

Indeed, making life easier and more efficient is what EAI solutions purport to be all about. According to the Hurwitz Group, 67% of the companies they surveyed cited improved efficiencies as the primary factor for implementing an EAI project.

SecureTrade's Ogilvie said EAI not only has the potential to drive efficiencies into Manila's commerce, but could also alleviate the traffic and pollution problem - moving from metaphor to Main Street. "Middleware will redeploy the motorcycles.".

Converging Technologies
As if IT organizations did not have enough of an enterprise integration headache, add new wireless devices to the platform mix sending CIOs to the aspirin bottle. Everyone from road warriors, to mobile workers to physicians treating patients wants access to enterprise applications. Fortunately, EAI players and others in the integration arena are working to make this a reality.

"It's becoming a requirement that anyone in the EAI space is going to have to support [wireless], most often with XML," said Keith Goldstein, director of strategic alliances at Tibco, Palo Alto, Calif. Goldstein points to Tibco customer Pagenet, "which built an EAI infrastructure using Tibco Active Enterprise and wireless delivery."

In addition, Tibco in September announced a partnership with AvantGo, in which Tibco will resell AvantGo Enterprise along with Tibco's TIB/Content Broker and TIB/Event Console to mobile professionals who need access to ERP data via handheld devices.

"Our relationship with AvantGo is moving us further along in our wireless strategy, with regards to classical EAI, and adding an extension for a portal," said Goldstein. "We understand the importance of multiple clients, regardless of where they are and if they're connected. We're embedding and selling AvantGo products around content aggregation and delivery. This will allow the PalmPilot to access data anywhere, regardless of content and where it's coming from."

Tibco is using XML as a key part of its wireless efforts. "We include XML as a meta data model; when we publish a message onto the bus, it uses XML as a definition. We could do it without XML, but our strategy is to work with best of breeds and standards adhering to Java, XML, RosettaNet, etc.," said Goldstein.

He said Tibco is extending beyond classical EAI to delivering content to portals. Tibco also has a portal hosting service called Tibco.net.

Another XML player, Mount Laurel, N.J.-based Bluestone Software, in December demonstrated a wireless app at Giga Information Group Inc.'s Emerging Technology Scene conference using its Total-e-Business product suite, and wireless devices from Symbol Technologies Inc. and Qualcomm. For the demo, a ruggedized Symbol SPT 1740 RF PalmPilot scanned the bar-coded name tag of an attendee and entered the attendee's cell phone number. Bluestone's ConXML software converted the scanned data to XML and uplinked it via wireless protocols to a Symbol Spectrum24 Wireless LAN receiver connected to the Total-e-Business server. Total-e-Business software, including the Sapphire/Web Application Server and XML Suite Integration Server, personalized the data and displayed the attendee's name on a Web page. The name was sent to be printed on a T-shirt, and the attendee's cell phone received an E-mail when the T-shirt was ready. Bluestone has put out as open source code the ConXML software, which runs on the Pilot.

Bluestone developed the application in about a week, said Bob Bickel, senior vice president of products. For local-area networks, a Symbol-type application works well, he said. For wide-area networks, however, "you still have to rely on cellular technology." Third-generation wireless and broadband will start to open up new applications, he said.

As it does, more integration challenges will arise. "Wireless for [EAI players] is still a bit of a stretch," said Gartner Group's Altman. "It's not what these guys typically do for a living." He said it falls more into the realm of "companies like Bluestone and Silverstream, but nothing is out of bounds. In e-business, a lot of stuff will end up converging." — Colleen Frye

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