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EAI players: 'App server vendors still need us'

BEA, whose WebLogic application server platform helped propel its meteoric growth over the last five years, is now looking to spread its wings further by positioning itself as an integration vendor.

LONDON -- As BEA Systems takes its place at the application integration table, traditional enterprise application integration vendors are countering the threat by maintaining that their offerings still hold the key to ensuring the success of an enterprise application integration project.

BEA, whose WebLogic application server platform helped propel its meteoric growth over the last five years, is now looking to spread its wings further by positioning itself as an integration vendor. As a result, it's going head-to-head with more-established EAI players. BEA's product targeting this market -- a J2EE-based 'open' platform called WebLogic Integration -- has been shipping for almost three months, and the company has recently scored its first significant deals, which include British telco BT.

BEA's pitch is that traditional EAI vendors -- such as Tibco, webMethods, Vitria and Information Builders subsidiary iWay -- provide an "incomplete and frustrating" framework of offerings that link specific applications through a "glorified message bus."

BEA claims this approach doesn't work for either customers or application vendors because they are a proprietary solution to a problem that is crying out for openness and standardization. Instead, customers are locked in to specific vendors, and application vendors are locked in to a proprietary integration layer.

Some analysts support this pitch from BEA. Giga Group analyst Will Cappelli says that packaged application vendors are retreating from providing wall-to-wall functionality because of user skepticism that all their needs can be provided by one vendor.

"There's a strong sense that people need to do some core integration, and they don't want a proprietary network integration platform to provide this," he said.

p>However, traditional EAI vendors are fighting back. For a start, they say some of BEA's claims ring hollow when you consider that its WebLogic Integration product incorporates core technology from EAI vendor webMethods -- with which BEA announced a major strategic alliance earlier this year.

This 'co-opetition' deal is not unique. IBM, BEA's adversary in the Java application server space, has a long-standing partnership with EAI vendor New Era of Networks (Neon, now owned by Sybase), as well as a more recent tie-up with iWay. The bottom line is that no single vendor has a complete portfolio to address a large enterprise's entire application infrastructure -- at least not yet.

In general, the application server companies can attack the integration piece by tying together 'Web-enabled' applications. However, they have difficulty in achieving tight integration with legacy systems -- most of which are old and monolithic but are highly relied upon by the business -- hence the reliance on EAI players.

Vendors such as iWay have the capability to link to these legacy systems; indeed this is what they are best at. For example, iWay cites figures from IBM that claim 80% of enterprise data is legacy-based, and that half of this data is in flat file format.

This is why iWay says its ability to provide adapters to over 120 different data sources will ensure its longevity. IWay even resells its connectors through some of its closest competitors -- "all they care about is that it works," said Norman Manley, European VP of iWay.

The often-incestuous nature of the integration and middleware market suggests consolidation will continue. The question is, how will the market change, and how can vendors adapt their strategy accordingly?

The Java-based 'open' bandwagon, led by IBM and BEA, will surely maintain its momentum, but out of a large chasing pack there are currently few signs that a vendor is emerging to take third place. While HP's Bluestone and Sun's iPlanet keep telling us they are "getting there," there is little evidence of this actually happening. This could create an opening for one of the traditional EAI players to come up with a Java-based offering of their own.

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