Integrating Web applications

Technology developers are moving beyond application integration to providing Web-enabled applications on top of legacy applications. The task of integrating Web apps, however, remains challenging.

The demand to create web services means that I-managers are scrambling to get their Web applications to work with their legacy systems.

Acquisitions and partnerships among integration vendors over the past year are making the job easier, but each vendor still brings a set of strengths and weaknesses to the task that must be carefully matched against the I-manager's particular needs.

IBM, with its WebSphere application server and MQ Series middleware, has been a strong player inside the enterprise and between enterprises with similar mainframe or Enterprise Resource Planning applications. To augment that strength, IBM on May 30 announced a partnership with Interwoven to offer TeamXpress with IBM's middleware.

"What they get is enterprise-class content management bundled tightly with WebSphere," says Darren Knipp, Interwoven TeamXpress product manager. Information may be retrieved from many legacy systems through a combination of WebSphere and IBM's Content Manager. That content can be loaded into TeamXpress, where it may be worked on collaboratively by designers and programmers and added to a mock-up of the company's Web site.

TeamXpress tracks the many versions of a site's content that may be created, tested and stored before it is actually loaded onto the site for operation. "You are managing all of your Web site's assets before you have to go to production," Knipp says.

All Web site integration vendors are moving in steps toward the ability to test a site's pieces — content, scripts that cause different user interactions and the applications providing ser vices behind the content — before they are submitted to the Web site visitor, Knipp says. But IBM and Interwoven eliminate the need for a separate, internal, staging site, where changes are tested before going live.

Last August, webMethods acquired a competing application integration firm, Active Software, and merged its ActiveWorks product into the webMethods Enterprise Suite. It includes adapters, or well-defined connection software, to 40 major databases, enterprise resource management systems and mainframe systems, including the Customer Information Control System and Information Management System transaction systems.

WebMethods augmented that capability late last year in a partnership with e-commerce application supplier BroadVision. Now, webMethods and Broad Vision jointly market webMethods' integration software with BroadVision's MarketMaker procurement and business commerce applications. Pehong Chen, BroadVision president and CEO, says the combination enables his customers, including Dell Computer, Federal Express and W.W. Grainger, "to facilitate dynamic, real-time relationships between buyers, suppliers and partners."

SeeBeyond Technology has also moved beyond application integration to supply Web-enabled applications on top of legacy applications through its eBusiness Integration Suite 4.5, announced June 5. In SeeBeyond's case, the applications are its own. It offers e*Gate, which supplies connections to databases; e*Index, a global identifier application for cross-indexing customers with the information known about them when they visit the site; e*Xchange, for establishing partner profiles, audit trails and security for transactions between business partners; and e*Insight, a business analysis tool that allows users to set up rules for how services may be invoked or used. Toward services

"You might want to establish a rule that this customer doesn't require a credit check unless the order is for over $1 million, or there have been three orders totaling over a million in the last week," says Kathleen Mitchell, SeeBeyond's senior vice president of marketing and business development.

E*Insight may also be used for analyzing customer data to look for trends in buying patterns or bottle necks in customer purchase decisions, says Scott Wildy, platform product line marketing manager.

SeeBeyond recently announced deals with Philip Morris, as its preferred supplier of e-business integration, and Electronic Data Systems, as a partner in building an interconnected business process to allow investment firms to execute security trades.

DataChannel takes a different approach, offering its DataChannel Server Web portal as the means of integrating applications, and offering information and services in the form of a user desktop-style interface. It has gone to two outside vendors, SeeBeyond and Vitria Technology, to get its set of 200 application integration adapters. Adapter counts are done differently by each vendor, and should be used for rough comparison only.

Since November, DataChannel has been a partner with Interwoven to offer that firm's TeamSite and PortalReady software development kit. With TeamSite, business analysts and I-managers can change content on the Web site through a work flow procedure that results in rapid changes without programmer intervention, Interwoven's Knipp says.

"We're trying to address both structured and unstructured content. We have a portal management approach," says Norbert Mikula, DataChannel's chief technology strategist. Customers include Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Exodus Communications and The Goldman Sachs Group.

Relativity Technologies' RescueWare goes behind the scenes, starting deep in the enterprise by analyzing legacy applications, says Relativity CEO Vivek Wadhwa. RescueWare features extensive code analyzers and visualizers that let programmers separate out code that reflects business processes, then capture it as a software module. The user interface in legacy applications is frequently a display to a dumb terminal. For use with a Web application, this display code can be stripped out and information required for a browser interface substituted. Frequently, the software module will be converted by RescueWare from Cobol to Java, C or C++.

In effect, RescueWare helps firms to "mine" their legacy applications for the business processes they need, then connects those processes to databases and other applications to bring their functionality to the Web, Wadhwa says. Users include Charles Schwab & Co., National City and the U.S. Air Force.

The approaches vary widely, but all the vendors are aiming for the same goal: make it easy to use legacy software to create the next generation of Web apps, especially Web services, Wadhwa says. Four paths to Web application integration

Vendors attack problem from different directions with varied strengths:

  • Back-end approach: Messaging middleware, such as IBM's MQ Series, links legacy mainframe applications to one another and to IBM's WebSphere application server, which makes application services available to Web site visitors. Sometimes, this approach is teamed up with a sophisticated content management system, such as Interwoven's TeamXpress.
  • Componentization: Legacy applications are analyzed and key business processes extracted and converted into software objects that can be called by an application server, such as Relativity Technologies' RescueWare. After extraction, Cobol code is likely to be converted to Java, Visual Basic or C++.
  • Portal approach: Portal framework software, such as Data Channel Server, integrates Web and legacy applications into a portal that is able to provide services to individual users. Data Channel relies on adapters or connection software to applications from SeeBeyond Tech nology and Vitria Technology.
  • Integrated applications: SeeBeyond Technology, in addition to having an extensive set of adapters connectingo legacy applications, offers a set of integrated applications — such as e*Xchange and e*Insight, part of eBusiness Integration Suite 4.5 — that places Web-oriented functionality on top of existing application services.