Solutions Emerge to Integrate Applications

The average Fortune 2000 company relies on 49 enterprise-level applications to run its business and spends 25 to 33 percent of its IT budget just to get them to talk to one another, according to Dan Sholler, program director of the Meta Group’s (Stamford, Conn.) application delivery strategies practice. So it’s no surprise that the enterprise application integration (EAI) software market is expected to grow from $1.6 billion in 1997 to $5 billion in 2001, according to the Yankee Group (Boston).

EAI software enables asynchronous communication between applications regardless of hardware platform, operating system or connectivity method. EAI proponents say other software-based integration systems, such as running all applications under a transaction processing monitor or a component-based object model such as CORBA, result in overly tight integration. "With asynchronous integration, you don’t place the same kind of service level demands on the applications participating in the relationship, but you can still maintain business integrity," Sholler says.

Although EAI seems like a potential solution to a purely technical problem, most EAI efforts are driven by business, rather than technical, needs. "When you’re talking about application integration, you’re really saying you have a business process, parts of which are automated by different applications," Sholler says. Companies are using EAI software to integrate legacy systems with newer applications, to Internet-enable existing applications, to integrate applications among multiple companies across a supply chain, to integrate front and back office applications and to populate data warehouses.

Because of the complexity involved, EAI software must be able to provide messaging and other middleware services, to manipulate and move data, and to enable communication between a variety of disparate application-level interfaces. As a result, analysts agree companies won’t necessarily save money in the short-term. The benefits from EAI software, however, are expected to show up in the long term. "Everyone assumes that this is going to provide long range benefit on maintenance and upgrade cycle," Sholler says.

Sholler’s functional model of EAI includes a foundation layer that provides transport, or messaging, and persistence, or database services. This foundation supports three components: a format engine, which handles data transformation and manipulation; application interfaces, which provide an abstract and consistent view of application functions; and process integration, which maintains the integrity of transactions until they are completed in all applications. Sholler adds metadata capabilities and systems management as two auxiliary functions to complete the model.

On the product level, the Yankee Group divides EAI software products into four categories: messaging/data tools, messaging/data architectures, business objects/process tools and business objects/process architectures.

A number of existing vendors are providing EAI software, and the market is expanding monthly with new vendors coming into the fray. The rapid market growth does have a cost. "You’re also starting to see the hype bubble getting inflated" with vendors struggling to explain how their software falls into the EAI category, Sholler explains.

For now, at least, Microsoft Corp. isn’t one of those vendors. "Microsoft really hasn’t shown a lot of interest in doing this," Sholler says. One of the reasons, he speculates, is that interoperability is one of the goals of EAI software. "My belief is that to play in this integration game, you have to offer multiplatform solutions," Sholler says.

EAI software is available for both Windows NT and Unix, but at least one vendor has seen a lopsided platform distribution for its products. According to Paul Koenig, vice president of product marketing for Active Software (Santa Clara, Calif., www.activesw.com), whose ActiveWorks 3.0 EAI suite was released last month, 80 percent of his company’s prototypes and pilot projects are implemented on NT, but about 80 percent of Active Software’s customers deploy on Unix. "A lot of them are saying I don’t want to bet my business on it yet," Koenig says.