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Apache expands Web services reach

Synapse will be a project to create an open-source integration server based on Web services protocols.

The Apache Software Foundation is expected to launch on Monday an open-source integration server project, part of a bigger effort to create a full suite of Web services infrastructure software.

Called Apache Synapse, the proposed project will create server software that processes XML documents as they travel between two machines.

Called a "Web services broker" or an enterprise service bus (ESB), Synapse will be designed to perform tasks such as translating between different XML document formats and routing information based on its contents. The initial code for the project will be donated by integration software vendor Sonic Software and Web services management company Infravio.

By itself, the Synapse software is not an alternative to full-featured commercial ESBs, a loosely defined term for integration software based on standards, including Web services protocols.

But when it's combined with software from other Apache Web services projects, notably Axis 2, it will eventually give corporate customers and developers a low-end, open-source alternative to commercial Web services integration tools, according to people involved in Synapse.

"Axis 2 and the whole vision of my company (WSO2) is to really take the basis of Axis 2 and a bunch of other projects and build a standalone Web services-centric platform as opposed to a Java-centric platform," said Sanjiva Weerawarana, the CEO of WSO2, and one of the "committers" of the Apache Synapse project. WSO2, launched earlier this month, intends to offer professional services around Apache Web services open-source software.

Typically, this sort of software "plumbing" for tying together different applications is built into commercial Java server packages or Microsoft's .Net software. With Synapse and Axis, Apache participants are trying to create Web services integration software that is not tied to any existing commercial products.

Synapse will be designed around the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and work with a variety of development languages, including Java, according to Weerawarana.

There are other projects intent on creating open-source integration software. Iona Technologies, Sun Microsystems, and JBoss are all building versions of the Java Business Integration standard, a Java-specific integration technique.

By co-founding the open-source project, Sonic Software hopes to create an industry standard and promote Web services as a way to "intermediate," or handle data transfers, between different programs, said Dave Chappell, vice president and chief technology evangelist at Sonic Software.

Chappell said that the Web services "intermediation" capabilities of Synapse are not directly competitive with commercial integration products, which offer more features.

"This will provide the architectural components that could be used in the broader scope of an ESB or be used in Web services management products," Chappell said.

Synapse will be in incubator status until the project demonstrates that it has sufficient industry support to become a full-fledged Apache project.

On top of Sonic Software, Infravio and WSO2, other founders in Synapse include representatives from Iona and Blue Titan.