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Iona bets on Web services integration

Software provider Iona Technologies is set to release its latest integration product, as part of a plan to bring the company back to profitability.

Software provider Iona Technologies plans to release its latest integration product Monday, as part of a plan to bring the company back to profitability.

The new software, called Artix, was built around Web services protocols as a means to link so-called middleware--software programs that sit on top of operating systems and can run other applications. The product was designed to bridge companies' transaction systems that are based on different operating systems and programming models.

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Artix initially will target Iona's CORBA middleware customers. CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) is a distributed computing specification which, like Web services, was designed to help companies share information across disparate systems. CORBA-based software never achieved broad adoption, but Iona's own CORBA product, called Orbix, remains the company's core revenue base.

"Our customers are happy with their CORBA stuff," said Eric Newcomer, chief technology officer at Iona. "But they got all this other stuff which was used to solve essentially the same problem, which is, how do I bring everything into a common view and architecture? We're providing Web services-based tools to deal with distributed computing with common tools."

Artix helps customers get more out of their existing systems by connecting to other business applications, Newcomer said. It also offers companies a way to adopt a services-oriented architecture. Services-oriented architectures structure information technology systems so that applications can interoperate without elaborate custom code.

The product draws on the company's XML (Extensible Markup Language)-based integration software. Using visual tools, application developers and architects can generate Web services code, which will allow the software to communicate with other Web services-based systems.

This method avoids the need for complex programming, Newcomer said. It also allows companies to draw on the services--such as security and transaction--that well-established applications already provide.

Artix "hides a lot of complexity because it uses common integration technology," he said. "We're trying to get people to use Web services as they were intended--an abstraction layer for services-oriented architecture rather than a feature of another product."

Iona said it is already testing Artix with a few of its large corporate customers. The company expects to win license deals in the range of $100,000 to $300,000.

Successful adoption of Artix is critical to Iona's short-term prospects. The company has been struggling to regain its profitability for well over a year. In May, the company's board ousted then-CEO Barry Morris and brought back one of the company's founders, Chris Horn, to reorganize the company.

Some analysts lauded Iona's strategy of focusing on a niche market segment. The integration software industry is a highly competitive field and has drawn increasing interest from industry heavyweights such as IBM, BEA Systems and Microsoft.

However, SG Cowen Securities remains cautious about Iona's prospects.

"A combination of the slowdown in IT spending and lack of strategic focus have resulted in unsuccessful (and costly) forays into J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) app servers and B2B (business to business), a deterioration in its core CORBA market, and poor financial performance," SG Cowen analysts Rehan Syed and Joo-Hun Kim wrote in a recent note.

Other companies that use Web services to integrate applications include Cape Clear, which was founded by Iona defectors. Sonic Software also relies on what it calls an "enterprise service bus" to use standards, such as Java messaging and Web services, to share data across company networks.