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The traditional ESB gets weaved into an SOA fabric

The release this week of webMethods Fabric 7.0 indicates the evolution of the enterprise services bus into a more holistic SOA infrastructure with business activity monitoring, business process management and governance.

In a sign of how quickly things change, the "traditional" enterprise service bus (ESB) is undergoing an evolution to stay current with the demands of the service-oriented architecture, morphing from an integration/messaging tool to an infrastructure offering that includes tools for business process management (BPM) and governance, analysts say.

We're seeing at this point that roughly 50 percent of the Global 5000 are actively engaged in business process management development.
Peter S. Kastner
VP Enterprise IntegrationAberdeen Group

The introduction this week of webMethods Fabric 7.0 indicates how much the ESB product category has grown from its original integration backbone role.

"The thing that we see in webMethods Fabric 7.0 is a really straightforward development environment for building composite applications in an SOA fashion," said Bill Swanton, vice president of research for AMR Research, Inc. He said the new product integrates all the tools historically linked to integration including the original enterprise application integration (EAI) technology as well as ESB, but now includes BPM, business activity monitoring (BAM), registry/repository and governance capabilities.

Outmoded as EAI may appear to be in an SOA world, it is still important to support the legacy technology, which is still in place in many corporations, said Peter S. Kastner, vice president enterprise integration for the Aberdeen Group.

"We found almost nobody who is willing to abandon their investments in EAI just to buy an ESB to say that they own one," he said. He cited webMethods as an original EAI company that has successfully made the transition into the SOA world while providing a bridge back to old integration technology. His research of IT departments this year disproved his own belief that the old integration vendors were doomed.

"My hypothesis going into the year was that the EAI companies would take it on the chin," Kastner said. "The reality is the vast majority of their customers are fairly easily connecting SOA via adapters to their EAI fabric or infrastructure."

Kastner and Swanton agree that adding the newer technology, especially BPM, is important to the evolution of the ESB technology webMethods is packaging under its Fabric brand.

Swanton said many of the other ESB vendors are still trying to put together a comprehensive toolset that will serve the needs of both business analysts and developers. The overall ESB technology is moving to include BPM so that developers can work with business analysts on the applications for the business processes, he said.

The BPM technology is important, Kastner said, because based on his research big business is embracing it in a big way. "We're seeing at this point that roughly 50 percent of the Global 5000 are actively engaged in business process management development." He noted that webMethods is not alone in integrating BPM into its ESB technology.

"You should note that Tibco has invested heavily in BPM over the last several years," he said. "Fiorano also beefed up their ESB product significantly in the BPM space in the last six months."

ESB evolution requires a new definition and perhaps even a new name, said Marc Breissinger, CTO at webMethods Inc., noting that the industry is beginning to embrace the term "fabric," which his company and some others use in their product branding.

From webMethod's point of view, the CTO said, the definition of ESB has expanded from a set of categorical definitions of features and functionality to a general category of technology that solves business problems.

"The focus of webMethods Fabric 7.0 coming out this week has to do with the evolution of business process management systems in the context of SOA and classic integration scenarios," Breissinger said. "What we have seen is a convergence of the straight-through processing style automated BPM along with the more human-centric approaches to business process management, or what is commonly referred to as workflow, into a coherent whole, along with business activity monitoring that also needs to be delivered by the BPMS, as well as UI development."

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The term fabric has become the umbrella for all the added tools and technologies. It is also used by the Burton Group, which uses terms such as middleware fabric and Web services fabric in discussing application integration using the service-oriented approach.

Breissinger said he isn't wild about the fabric terminology, but it appears to be the best way to describe the holistic approach to combining ESB with BPM and other technology for measuring, modeling and implementing SOA.

"In the past before we got into the BPM space, we were talking about integration backbones," the webMethods' CTO said in providing a brief history of terms. "Then we talked about services buses. In a sense the fabric is the same concept taken one step further to include the business process management and the analytics and the composite application development capabilities to give you that full system building infrastructure versus a pure bus or backbone."

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