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Iona bids for end to anywhere

Iona Technologies claims its Orbix End to Anywhere product includes the industry's first Web services integration platform, bound to annoy rivals in the Web services integration platform market.

Iona Technologies claims its Orbix End to Anywhere (E2A) product includes the industry's first Web services integration platform.

That's bound to annoy executives at Shinka Technologies, which -- as a swift Web search reveals -- launched its own Web services integration platform at XML One in London last March. Iona, though, has bigger game in its sites. CEO Barry Morris sees E2A as the definitive replacement for traditional EAI tools -- tools he calls "proprietary, anti-integration technologies" designed to get enterprises hooked on a single-vendor franchise.

Background

Once the recognized expert in the common object request broker (Corba) architecture, Irish overachiever Iona has spent the past two years searching for a new and expanded role that fits it as comfortably as the old one. A buying spree that kicked off in February 1999 saw EJBHome, Watershed Technologies, Genesis Development, Object-Oriented Concepts and Netfish brought into the Iona fold, with software assets from Suplicity and Software AG to boot. On the strength of these acquisitions, the company branched out into J2EE, portals, business integration and business process automation.

While all this was happening, Iona cofounders Annrai O'Toole and Colin Newman left to found Cape Clear, the other Web services specialist named for a small island off the Irish coast. Executives on both sides say the companies remain close partners, with Cape Clear building tools and Iona designing platforms. As that distinction starts to blur, other differences between the companies become more apparent. Iona is public, and now employs 850 people in 30 offices around the world. Privately held Cape Clear retains the advantages of nimbleness and hindsight -- advantages that entrepreneurs like the Iona founders typically find hard to resist.

The companies agree on one fundamental principle: that Web services are the right answer to the problem of integration. As Morris put it, "There's a long-term, multi-decade trend in this industry of power to the people." Just as TCP/IP swept away islands of incompatible proprietary network protocols, Iona, Cape Clear and the other Web services evangelists would like to see XML, SOAP, UDDI and the rest sweep away the traditional EAI vendors.

Technology

The E2A announcement was distressingly free of technical content, and as the451 went to press there was no sign of a promised white paper on Iona's site. This much can be established: Orbix E2A XMLBus Edition is the entry-level product. It implements XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI, making it possible to persuade J2EE, Corba and .NET applications to play nicely together. It's aimed at companies with specific information assets they'd like to expose as Web services. At the top of the list of benefits, however, is the upgrade path to the more elaborate -- and, for Iona, profitable -- versions of the software.

Orbix E2A Partner Edition is built for small to medium-sized enterprises, and it's designed to make communication up and down the supply chain as efficient as possible. It offers cheap connectivity for trading partners and rapid integration with desktop applications like Excel. It supports manual, batch-oriented and event-driven collaborations, and includes support for EDI. There are provisions for encryption, authentication, non-repudiation and digital signatures.

The jewel in the crown, though, is Orbix E2A Collaborate Edition. Based on Iona's Adaptive Runtime Technology (ART), it's an integration broker for multivendor process collaboration. To put it another way, it's designed for companies unwilling to take a risk on traditional EAI packages -- or for EAI burn victims. It's an upgrade path for EDI users and it offers the option to partner with companies that are using proprietary systems like WebMethods without actually having to bring those systems in-house. As well as EDI, it supports OS/30, SAP, Siebel, CORBA, RDBMSs and MQ Series.

Morris said the new platform is far more than mere repackaging. "Our products are modular, so we pulled them apart and put them back together using these same Web services," he said.

Competition

Poor Shinka's name didn't even come up, but Morris did take the opportunity for gentle swipes at Sun and at the application server vendors, like BEA, which he says have come late to the Web services religion.

"If you're thinking about services as something you bolt on the side, you're thinking wrong," he said. "The application server is fundamentally the wrong tool for the job. These people are just trying to extend their app server franchises."

Morris did single out one Web services standards advocate for particular praise: Microsoft. He noted that Windows XP is built on Web services, meaning that even CIOs who want to implement services at the network edge and not inside the firewall must prepare to contend with them on the desktop.

Conclusion

Iona's Orbix E2A is not the industry's first Web services integration platform, but it does boast a respectable roster of partners and customers: Microsoft, Nordstrom.com, Zurich Insurance, BroadVision, HotJobs.com, PricewaterhouseCoopers, SAIC and KPMG. The systems integrators in particular will be crucial to Iona's future. In the end, only they can persuade wary CIOs that Web services offer a new kind of EAI -- the kind that won't necessarily turn around and bite.


the451 (www.the451.com) is an analyst firm that provides timely, detailed and independent analysis of news in technology, communications and media. To evaluate the service click here.

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