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Open-source projects intertwine for integration

Three projects join forces to create alternative to software-integration products from IBM and others.

Three open-source projects are teaming up to create an alternative to software-integration products from IBM and other heavyweights.

Those involved in talks told CNET that the partnership calls for close technical ties and code sharing among ServiceMix, Apache Synapse and Celtix, which is hosted at France-based consortium ObjectWeb.

The goal of the planned alliance, the sources said, is to create a more cohesive integration offering and attract software developers in the increasingly cluttered field of open source, where new projects seem to appear weekly. Wide adoption of open-source integration products--software that glues together business applications--could open up revenue opportunities for participants in the area of support.


What's new:
Looking to create more momentum around their integration software, three open-source projects are in talks to share code and provide close interoperability among them, CNET has learned.

Bottom line:
Integration software, which glues together business applications, appears to be following the same open-source path as other software categories, such as databases and application servers.

The winner "is going to be decided by market adoption, which of course doesn't become clear until the software is ready for production use," said Phil Wainewright, founder and publisher of Web services site "But if these three initiatives are going to join forces, that will help them command more mindshare. The outcome is really going to be determined by who gains the most momentum."

An official announcement that will also involve integration company Iona Technologies and LogicBlaze, an open-source start-up that provides support services for ServiceMix, is planned for September, according to those involved.

The three projects address different aspects of the age-old problem of integration. Corporations spend millions of dollars a year on integration products. Much the way a network router can ship packets of data between different locations, so-called integration brokers transport business documents and transactions from application to application.

For example, a program can pass a customer's online purchase information from an order-entry system to a warehouse or customer-support application. Rather than write custom code to propagate the purchase order information between systems, developers can rely on brokers to handle the connections and provide standardized tools for writing the "glue code."

Though this software plumbing is not visible to most end users, it commands the interest of software developers and IT executives, who need a reliable infrastructure to underpin their business applications, according to analysts.

Standardization, commoditization?
The three open-source efforts vying for more developer attention rely on standard protocols for integration. ServiceMix is server software, based on the Java Business Integration, or JBI, standard, which runs Java programs that collect and process data from different sources. Celtix, a project created by Iona Technologies, serves the same purpose but is designed to support a broad variety of communication protocols and languages. Meanwhile, Synapse is a recently launched project for processing XML documents when they are sent between two applications using the Simple Object Access Protocol, or SOAP.

These three projects are very much in their early stages--ServiceMix is the only one to have released a version 1.0, which it did last week. However, the combination of these products could apply more competitive pressure to incumbent integration-software providers, such as Tibco, IBM, BEA Systems, Oracle and WebMethods.

Analysts and technology executives involved in open source contend that the field of integration is starting to follow the path of other open-source middleware and will likely have the same effect on incumbent server software providers.

Much the way Microsoft has had to react to the popularity of the operating system Linux, providers of Java application servers and databases are seeing open source nibble away at the low end of their business, analysts said. Many commercial vendors are embracing aspects of open source and creating low-end versions of their products to better compete.

Integration is an "area that is very ripe for open-source implementations," said Michael Goulde, an analyst at Forrester Research. "It's standards-based middleware that sits under where the value is in a real business application. It will become more important as companies implement service-oriented architectures, but it's going to take some time."

Goulde noted that corporate customers can choose from a wide array of mature products from the well-established vendors. Over time, though, he expects open-source products to challenge those entrenched providers as the open-source code matures and gets used in more complex scenarios. (One such scenario, for example, might be a high-volume financial trading application where millions of transactions are processed very quickly.) Once they become widely used, open-source products will apply price pressure on existing products, he said.

Sonic Software, Fiorano and Cape Clear are smaller commercial companies that have built standards-based integration software, usually called enterprise service bus (ESB) products. Larger players IBM and BEA Systems have also done so. And with its Communication Foundation, formerly code-named Indigo, Microsoft is building into Windows the Web services messaging infrastructure that underpins integration applications.

Flurry of open-source ESBs
Even as incumbent suppliers have created ESB products, a number of open-source projects have sprouted up to handle some of the same tasks.

Iona began the Celtix project in June at ObjectWeb, though it doesn't expect to have code available to developers until the end of the year at the earliest, according to Eric Newcomer, Iona's chief technology officer. ObjectWeb also began an ESB project in June 2004 and intends to offer more products, according to Francois Letellier, a member of the executive committee at ObjectWeb.

Following the completion of the JBI standard in June, Sun Microsystems said it will create an open-source server based on the standard, for release next year. Open-source middleware company JBoss said it intends to offer an ESB product based on JBI as well.

ServiceMix began two years ago as a complement to the Apache Geronimo Java application server project, while Synapse launched earlier this month and is still in the "incubator" phase.

Even though these open-source products are not meant to be full-blown integration packages, commercial vendors will need to address the effect open source is having on the low end, analysts and executives said.

"Top-tier vendors have a choice of either being part of the game and going the open-source way or being threatened by open-source solutions," said ObjectWeb's Letellier.

Earlier this year, IBM purchased Gluecode, a services company set up to offer support to small companies that use the Geronimo open-source application server. The product line is meant to be the low-end alternative to IBM's WebSphere application server. In the database market, Microsoft and Oracle have dropped prices and included high-end features in an attempt to appeal to small and medium-size businesses.

In the case of Iona, which is also participating in Synapse, the company is seeking to create a "dual strategy" of gaining support revenue from Celtix while offering customers a higher-end edition of the same product, called Artix.

"The goal of the industry at this point is to get service-oriented infrastructure (software) into the hands of customers for the least possible cost, so you can drive adoption of it," Newcomer said.

The ServiceMix and Synapse software will be made available under the Apache 2.0 license, while Celtix is expected to use the Lesser General Public License, or LGPL. Both licenses are considered open source. However, the differences could create legal entanglements, particularly in regard to sharing code. To ease those concerns, Iona intends to republish any code used by the other projects under the Apache license, Newcomer said.

The planned partnership between participants in the Celtix and ServiceMix projects is also meant to sort out potential areas of confusion and overlap, according to people involved in the discussions.

"We're not going to compete; we're going to reuse," said James Strachan, the founder of the ServiceMix project and the chief architect of LogicBlaze, a company founded by Simula Labs earlier this year.

LogicBlaze now offers commercial support services behind the ServiceMix software and intends to offer similar services for the Celtix and Synapse code, he said.

"We're going to compete aggressively and shake up the market for all middleware vendors," Strachan said. "JBoss has done this in the application servers, and we're going after the messaging and integration space."

Though the combination of products may be compelling on paper, the three projects do face hurdles in adoption, noted observers.

In a post on open-source ESB projects, Annrai O'Toole, CEO of ESB vendor Cape Clear, argued that most successful open-source projects have a grassroots following.

"Just because a piece of code is open source doesn't suddenly endow it with natural greatness or popularity. A useless bit of code is a useless bit of code irrespective of its openness," O'Toole wrote.

Also, the process of coordinating efforts among different open-source projects, some of which are staffed with people from commercial vendors, could be challenging.

Even though open-source ESBs may be available for free, there will still be cost in the form of support and installation contracts, noted Forrester's Goulde. He added that with a growing list of ESB-related open-source projects, developer customers could easily be confused.

"One aspect of the open-source spirit is to pick one thing and do it well. We might see some of the capabilities of individual products trying to specialize in a piece of the architecture and make sure they all work together well," Goulde said. "It's too early in the process to see how things will shake out."