Software AG readies ESB play

Software AG plans to join the ESB (enterprise service bus) fray next month with the introduction of software to manage distributed Web services in the enterprise.

The company's Service Integrator product will be a single piece of distributed software positioned as an ESB, according to William Ruh, CTO and senior vice president for the Americas-based branch of Software AG.

An ESB acts as the services equivalent of what a router does for TCP/IP networking, in that an ESB provides for routing of service requests, Ruh said. The ESB can manage hundreds of Web services, he said. Acknowledging the newness of ESB technology, Ruh added, "I think we're in the process of defining what an ESB is."

A key element of the Software AG ESB is a mediator component to handle routing of Web services calls and transformations of data to a format acceptable to the data receiver. Integration with the company's Tamino XML Server will provide persistence, for data recovery and auditing, as well as meta data management, to describe transformations such as XML transformations, Ruh said. A directory component provides for the discovery and management of Web services.

With Service Integrator, any tool can be used to build Web services interfaces to the applications, such as .Net tools, an application server or a mainframe application development tool, Ruh said.

While an ESB eventually can be extended to B2B environments running between partners, its initial use will be for integrating applications within enterprises, said Ruh.

Software AG's ESB will be useful in performing necessary tasks of intermediating between different document formats and routing those documents, in an asynchronous fashion, to different services on the network, said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink LLC. But the term "ESB" may have a short shelf life, Schmelzer stressed.

"In the long term, however, the ESB term is just a means to an end," Schmelzer said in an e-mail response to questions. "Once companies realize that they need the infrastructural capabilities of an ESB, they will desire the rest of (an) SOA (services-oriented architecture) implementation framework as well, and the functionality of today's ESBs will shift to solve those requirements.

"Yet, the fast-and-loose use of the term ESB, which originally had a reasonably specific meaning, is now becoming increasingly vague, and ZapThink believes it will gradually lose its value to the market as a result," Schmelzer wrote.

Companies such as Sonic Software Corp. have offered an ESB and vendors such as JBoss Group Inc. and BEA Systems Inc. are mulling plans to do so. Already shipping to existing Software AG clients, Service Integrator will be generally available on May 17.

Also on that date, the company plans to unveil two other products: Legacy Integrator, for Web services enablement of legacy applications, and Information Integrator, for building a virtual database out of many databases using Web services.

Legacy Integrator packages pre-built adapters for applications such as CICS with a toolkit to build interfaces for applications that lack a pre-built interface. Legacy Integrator fits in with Service Integrator, according to Software AG.

With Information Integrator, front-end systems, such as an Excel spreadsheet or analysis tool, do not have to know how to access all of the back end systems.

"(Information Integrator) can make a diverse set of databases look like a single database," Ruh said. The product holds meta data definitions from back-end systems and definitions on how to access that data. XML links the meta data structures together for definitions such as what a customer is, according to Ruh.

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