Over the years, the act of putting more user-friendly front ends on legacy applications was often referred to as "putting lipstick on a pig." Loosely Coupled's Phil Wainewright invokes this analogy to describe Sun's recent announcement of its plans to acquire EAI vendor SeeBeyond. On June 28th, Sun Microsystems announced that it has agreed to acquire SeeBeyond Technology Corp. in an all-cash transaction worth $387 million.
In this case, the "pig" Wainewright refers to is the spaghetti networks, patchworks, and stovepipes of legacy systems that exist across most enterprises. SeeBeyond is part of a breed of vendors that came on the scene in the 1990s, offering tools to build composite application platforms on which selected business processes could be moved off of legacy systems, enabling them to integrate with newer architectures (such as Web on Windows or Unix). Now, Web services/SOA standards offer cheaper and faster ways to integrate, and "EAI vendors, SeeBeyond included, have been eager to cast off their legacy EAI heritage and recreate themselves as SOA vendors," Wainewright points out.
Why would Sun be interested in a vendor with a business model in such an impending state of flux? SeeBeyond fits into Sun's plans for Java Business Integration (JBI). Wainewright sees the SeeBeyond acquisition as solidifying Sun's Java offerings for SOA development and infrastructure. This is fine for an organization that is happy about standardizing on Java, he observes, adding that "there are a lot worse platforms to standardize on."
However, integration is still not possible with fully open standards, Wainewright opines. "The trouble with SOA for business integration, as SeeBeyond will readily tell you, is that the standards are not really in place to co-ordinate things at that level in a non-proprietary way. If you're going to build composite applications today, you're going to have to fill in some of the gaps that currently exist between the various proposed specifications (few of which have yet been submitted to standards bodies, let alone reached formal standards status). EAI vendors like SeeBeyond are quite pleased about this, of course, because it means they can still add lots of proprietary value-add."
Wainewright speculates that with SeeBeyond, Sun appears to be favoring integration approaches that still use "proprietary code to achieve higher-level business integration." He writes that "legacy EAI, proprietary platforms and vendor-centric roadmaps are the 'pigs' in the SOA farmyard. In transitioning to SOA, vendors often need to put a more pleasing facade on infrastructure that frankly doesn't measure up to the ideals of SOA. The combination of SeeBeyond and JBI gives Sun some fancy new lipstick, but a much less attractive reality lies beneath the surface gloss."