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Report: Trouble for integration tools

A new report says an emerging Web services market focused on new business-process technologies could make the current market for application-integration software obsolete.

A new report suggests that an emerging Web services market focused on new business-process technologies could make the current market for application-integration software obsolete.

The report, released this week by Waltham, Mass.-based analyst group ZapThink, forecasts that the market for service-oriented process tools--products that use a predefined business-process workflow to connect dissimilar systems--will explode to $8.3 billion five years from now, from about $120 million annually today.

A services-oriented architecture is a method for constructing software systems so that information can be shared relatively easily between multiple applications and data sources. Rather than hard-coding connections between applications, a services-oriented architecture exploits more flexible mechanisms such as Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Web services to exchange data. The advantage for businesses of this "loosely coupled" approach is that changes to an individual software module can be made without causing glitches with linked software systems.

Emerging service-oriented process software is founded on the notion that data can be integrated in the context of a particular business process. For example, rather than simply moving data between two points, an application designed around a specific process could draw data from several sources through a multistep workflow, such as handling a new insurance claim.

"When you're putting together a process, in effect you're integrating," said Ronald Schmelzer, the author of the report.

This alternative approach to application integration could mean trouble for companies focused solely on enterprise application integration (EAI). Traditional application-integration middleware takes information from one application source and transports that data to another application.

EAI companies "are going to have to think about where the value proposition is," said Schmelzer. "If you're just trying to connect things together as an afterthought, you're never going to win."

EAI companies are responding to real-world problems in trying to get applications to connect, according to Schmelzer. But increasing attention to business-process technologies and to the use of Web services to share data will render the integration problem moot, he said.

"Vendors focused on EAI without process will face trouble in the next two years," said Schmelzer.

Some EAI companies have upgraded their respective middleware products with the option to use Web services protocols to share information, and some have introduced business-process modeling tools. But a projected wave of service-oriented architecture will put severe price pressure on standalone EAI vendors, Schmelzer said.

Schmelzer also predicts a coalescing of the standards that involve business-process tools. Standards addressing service-oriented process include Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL), Business Process Modeling Language (BPML) and Web Service Choreography Interface (WSCI).

These specifications have been the focus of recent controversy within standards organizations, as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) jostle for authority over them.

This week, Microsoft, IBM and BEA Systems jilted the W3C by submitting BPEL to OASIS.

Despite the standards quagmire, the ZapThink report predicted swift progress of process technologies in the market, with 70 percent of all Web services implementation projected to be process-driven by 2005.