December 20, 2002 12:06 PM PST

Iona sets sights on Web services

Software maker Iona Technologies will seek to do an end run around Java application server companies with the release next year of a software integration server built around Web services technology.

The product under development, code-named Inferno, is designed to offer companies a method for exchanging information between applications using Web services standards and Extensible Markup Language (XML). Rather than write custom software to pass data between systems, XML represents information as structured documents that can be more easily shared. The Inferno integration broker will act like a software switch, routing XML messages between applications.

Through an acquisition, Iona gained XMLBus, software that exchanges information between applications using XML-based Web services. Iona has already tied the XMLBus product to its existing integration middleware, including Iona's Orbix E2A Web services Integration Platform.

The Inferno product, which is being built on the base of XMLBus, will be designed to help businesses create XML-based adapters that interoperate with third-party or in-house applications, said Eric Newcomer, chief technology officer at Iona.

Although Iona sells its own Java application server and other middleware products, the Inferno product aims to prove that companies can do application integration without investing in application servers, which can costs tens of thousands of dollars for the software license, Newcomer said.

"Rather than an extension to an existing application server, we have a configurable run-time for Web services...We're sort of playing a spoiler role," said Newcomer. "We think there will be another category for Web services integration and it will go hand and glove with services-oriented architectures as a competitive weapon for businesses." Services-oriented architectures structure information technology systems so that applications can interoperate without elaborate custom code.

IT research firm Gartner issued a research note last week predicting that a new category of software product called an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) will become a major market force in 2003. Iona's Inferno will likely be in that category.

Besides Iona, a number of smaller companies are developing relatively stripped-down integration software designed around Web services standards, including Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and Web Services Description Language (WSDL). These ESBs are simpler, low-end alternatives to more comprehensive, but expensive, integration middleware, the report said.

Iona is testing its Inferno product with some of its customers and plans to sell the initial version in the first quarter of 2003, primarily targeting businesses looking to solve "medium-weight" integration problems, Newcomer said. The company will add to the product throughout the year with advanced features such as quality-of-service guarantees that ensure specified response times and document translation services that convert incompatible XML-formatted data.

The more robust follow-on features, such as quality of service and business process workflow, will draw on Iona's experience with middleware that adheres to the CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) standard, Newcomer said. CORBA is a set of programming specifications that define communications between applications and components. Iona, which was one of a very few companies to capitalize on CORBA, realizes the majority of its revenue comes from customers using CORBA products.

In the Gartner report, analyst Roy Schulte predicted that low-cost, Web services-native integration products will cut into the business of more comprehensive middleware products from companies like SeeBeyond, Tibco, and Vitria, because many projects do not demand the full range of features. Schulte said Iona and IBM were likely candidates to offer stripped-down versions of their integration suites in 2003.

 

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