August 28, 2003 11:05 AM PDT

IBM readies new integration software

IBM plans to muscle into an emerging market for scaled-down integration software, a product category analysts say is poised for growth.

The company is developing integration software, called Services Integration Bus, which runs on corporate servers and wires together applications across a network. The forthcoming product will supplement IBM's existing line of integration software, which is used to pass data between business applications, such as order-management systems and customer-sales databases, said Bob Sutor, director of WebSphere infrastructure software at IBM.

The integration software, still under development, will be built around both Java and Web services standards, said IBM executives. It is expected to ship by mid-2004, according to IBM.

Web services--a set of XML-based programming specifications--is catching on with corporate customers as a relatively inexpensive way to integrate disparate systems. IBM will sell the integration software as part of its WebSphere line of Java-based server software.

Big Blue will join a handful of companies in the market for enterprise service bus (ESB) software. Traditional integration software, or middleware, used to connect packaged or home-grown applications is typically more sophisticated and expensive. ESBs, in comparison, are designed around industry standards and can be used more broadly within a business, acting as an integration clearinghouse for shuttling data across networks.

Research company Gartner predicts that ESBs have a bright future as a stripped-down substitute to more costly traditional middleware products. By 2005, Gartner says, a majority of large enterprises will be running an ESB to suit some of their integration needs.

Connecting applications in order to streamline operations or find new uses for existing systems is consistently a top priority for information technology executives. That persistent need for effective integration software has prompted nearly all infrastructure software providers, including BEA Systems and Microsoft, to accelerate product development around integration.

IBM already has a number of integration-related products, which it sells under the WebSphere Business Integration name. Its most established integration software, which used to be called MQSeries, is widely deployed in large corporations for reliably sending data via messages between computers. Nearly two years ago, Big Blue acquired application-to-application integration software from CrossWorlds. IBM also has DB2 Information Integrator, a tool for querying several dispersed databases at once.

Big Blue's ESB product will be a more general tool for integration tasks, said Sutor. The ESB can identify the optimal network route to securely and reliably send a message, such as an XML document, he said, and it can monitor the transmission for performance glitches. The ESB will be built around the Java Message Service standard and can be accessed via Web services standards.

"This will be a very lightweight, very high-performance messaging (product)," said Danny Sabbah, chief technology officer at IBM's software group.

"The classic example of what you'd want to do with this," Sabbah explained, "is monitoring and metering millions of miles of oil pipeline. You get huge volumes of messaging traffic coming into a monitoring hub." The new integration software will ensure secure delivery of information across the different network nodes and provide performance information. Sabbah said the new product represents an effort to generate new revenue in the integration software business.

IBM will not be the first company to latch onto the ESB idea. A number of companies label themselves ESB providers. In its report, Gartner identified Sonic Software, Kenamea and SpiritSoft as smaller companies that sell ESBs.

Even with IBM's significant presence in both Java and messaging-based middleware, the company's pending entrance into the ESB market is not a guaranteed success. Ron Schmelzer, an analyst at research company ZapThink, noted that the smaller price tag of ESBs, compared with traditional middleware, makes them very suitable to midsize companies, a market segment where IBM does not have a long track record.

"IBM has not done a good job selling to the midmarket, and that's where the growth is from a messaging perspective," Schmelzer said. "IBM's challenge is to show they can enter this market and have something new and unique."

IBM's introduction of an ESB product will help validate the nascent market segment and put additional pressure on established integration providers, said Gordon Van Huizen, vice president of product management at Sonic, which is expected to go head-to-head with IBM in ESBs. Sonic, which has about 70 ESB customers, is betting that lower-cost and more versatile ESBs will unseat products from entrenched middleware providers, such as Tibco, WebMethods and SeeBeyond.

"When you see the largest vendor in the space embracing the notion of ESBs and the standards coming around, you have the makings for a durable product category," said Van Huizen, who compared the maturity of ESBs to that of application servers about five years ago. "In the next 12 to 18 months, it will gel quite a bit more, and IBM getting in helps with that gelling."

 

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