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Open source/commercial ESB hybrid reflects SOA reality

The growing diversity of ESB technology in SOA environments is reflected in today's announcement by Iona Technologies Inc. of a hybrid open source/commercial ESB offering.

Auto makers aren't the only ones selling hybrids.

Multiple ESBs are often used, or come into play, rather than one honking ESB swallowing everything up.
Dana Gardner
Principal AnalystInterarbor Solutions LLC.

Iona Technologies Inc. today announced its own hybrid model for selling Artix, its closed source enterprise services bus (ESB), and FUSE, its open source ESB based on technology developed by the Apache Foundation. The hybrid model, which will allow customers to deploy a combination of Artix and FUSE in their service-oriented architecture (SOA) environment, is based on customer demand, said Eric Newcomer, CTO at Iona.

Two analysts briefed prior to the announcement of the Iona ESB hybrid approach agree that it reflects a marketplace where enterprises may be mixing and matching open source and closed source products in their SOA implementations.

Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions LLC., said Iona's hybrid model reflects a new era where SOA architects and developers may not rely on just one ESB, whether it be open or closed source.

"Some new use traits are emerging on how ESBs are actually being used in the market," Gardner said. "One is that multiple ESBs are often used, or come into play, rather than one honking ESB swallowing everything up."

Bradley F. Shimmin, principal analyst of application infrastructure at Current Analysis LLC., said Iona's hybrid model is unique in that it does not seek to use an open source offering to get a foot in a customer's door and then up sell them to proprietary technology.

"The company does not field open source products as a stepping stone to closed source renditions of the same software with some additional features thrown in as an enticement," Shimmin said. "The company intends to field two complementary solution sets – with some overlap – geared toward customers who wish to employ a mix of closed and open source solutions supported by a single contract and vendor."

Newcomer said it is possible open source ESB technology may eventually triumph in the marketplace, but for the interim period, customers are looking at both open and closed, which makes Iona's hybrid a practical move.

"Today," Newcomer said, "the reality of the market is that we see a lot of customers are interested in both. If you think open source will take over more and more over time that may be true, but that's going to take a long time and commercial software has a very viable future in the meantime. So we think it's a very pragmatic approach based on what customers are interested in."

The ESB market may be getting even more complicated than just choosing between open and closed source or mixing and matching them, Gardner said.

A variety of ESB requirements and deployments emerge from different SOA projects aimed at using different means to access and integrate resources, he said. A mix of ESB technologies come about when different companies or even departments within a larger enterprise are merged and the IT department's job becomes how to get all the ESBs to work together. There is also a mix of ESBs in situations where an enterprise is using a variety of Software as a Service (SaaS) products.

"Given these scenarios, rather than force an architect to pick or choose one ESB and make it dominant, we just as often see federation of several ESBs," Gardner said. "So hybrid ESB use makes sense and is reflective of what's going on in actual use."

However, in the SOA sometimes some ESBs are more equal than others.

"ESBs are not just federated on equal footing," Gardner said. "An ESB can be used in master and slave configurations, where various architectural topologies are likely given the many possible ways that these SOAs emerge. Old and new can play well based on many types of integration."

In this technology environment, Gardner sees Iona's hybrid approach as a logical fit.

"On one hand, FUSE allows for the benefits of open source and community development to make ESBs inclusive and standards-based," the analyst said. "And the community provides a great way for many connectors and modules to well-up to bring even more assets and resources into play with the ESB."

Larry Alston, Iona's vice president and general manager for open source, said his company is building that kind of community around FUSE, which was originally launched this past July. Developers interested in downloading and exploring the open source ESB technology can do so there without cost or obligation.

Gardner sees promise for this community.

"In this open source role for an ESB, Metcalfe's Law – the value of a network grows with number of participants on it – applies too," the analyst said. "The value of the ESB increases with the number and diversity of assets and resources that can attach to it. FUSE aims to exploit this, as well as provide a low-cost and simpler way for developers to enter into ESB use."

Noting that the Artix ESB binds and integrates legacy CORBA environments, Gardner sees the past and future meeting in the Iona hybrid model.

"So you have a backward-facing and legacy-compatible ESB offering, one that scales to large transactional demands in Artix," he said. "And you have the new kids on the block, Web services and SOA greenfield services that can be accessed and organized via FUSE and the Apache community."

The ability to make use of FUSE and Artix in federated configuration gives architects and developers choices as they build and expand their SOA implementation based on the specific integration needs of their organization, Gardner said.

In explaining his company's hybrid vision, with the FUSE/Artix interoperability scheduled to be finalized in the third quarter of 2008, Iona's Alston said, "What we are ultimately going to have is two runtimes, one that's closed source and one that's open source, runtime backbones based on our ESB technology that would allow the components to plug into either one."

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As of today, he said the Artix Orchestration, Artix Registry/Repository and Artix Data Services components interoperate with FUSE. Still to come in 2008 is FUSE interoperability with the Artix modules for security, quality of service, metering and monitoring, as well as connectivity modules for mainframes and the Microsoft environment, Alston said.

However, while the hybrid model may reflect the diversity of the current ESB market, it may still be a challenge to sell this approach to corporate IT, Shimmin said.

"Obviously, Iona's approach should appeal primarily to companies with some experience with Apache software products, since FUSE solutions are based upon Apache projects," Shimmin said. "The company's challenge in the near term, of course is twofold and relates to its decision to function as a truly hybrid closed/open source vendor. First it must field a pre- and post-sales team capable of supporting both product lines, and second it must create seamless points of integration between the two, connecting the closed source registry/repository with the open source ESB, for example."

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