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8/22/2005
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Apache Launches Open Source Software-Integration Project

Apache Synapse would compete with propretary middleware for sharing data between enterprise applications

The Apache Software Foundation on Monday launched an open-source project to develop application-integration middleware, a move that could lead to a viable alternative to vendor-supplied products used in service-oriented architectures.

Apache Synapse would provide many of the capabilities of an enterprise service bus. An ESB, which is available from many vendors, provides secure interoperability between business systems via extensible markup language, web services interfaces and standardized rules-based routing.

Synapse was launched through Apache by WSO2, a Sri Lankan startup funded by Covalent Technologies, a consulting and services company for Apache software, and other investors. The project also has support from vendors Blue Titan, Infravio, Iona Technologies and Sonic Software.

The project is targeting companies adopting service-oriented architectures, an evolution in distributed computing that looks to provide standards-based software integration that make it possible for managers to make changes to business processes without the need for IT specialists.

Among the functions of an ESB is to transform XML documents from one data format to another, so they can be shared between different applications. The software also ensures that data can be shared based on pre-established guidelines.

At first glance, Synapse's goals do not appear to offer an alternative to more sophisticated integration technology offered by key players in the market, including IBM, BEA Systems, Oracle, WebMethods and Tibco. However, that changes when the planned technology from Synapse is added to other open-source components, such as the Apache Agila, Apache Strut, Apache Axis and the Spring Framework and Hibernate, called SASH by open-source services provider SourceLabs, Ian Charlesworth, analyst for market researcher Ovum said.

"Opportunity for open source is to drive a wedge into the base layer of commercial integration stacks, offering the market a viable alternative without the frills, bells or whistles," Charlesworth said in a research note. "Apache Synapse is a classic example of this."

Use of open-source software in place of vendors' products, however, means an enterprise would more likely have to hire a services firm to help in stitching together the various components into a full integration system, Jason Bloomberg, analyst for researcher ZapThink LLC, said.

"It's similar to choosing whether to go to a car dealership and drive a car off the lot, or buy the parts and build it yourself," Bloomberg said. "Most people would prefer to buy it off the lot."

The upside to open-source alternatives, however, is more flexibility in customizing the software, since all the source code is available, experts say. Open-source software also doesn't carry any licensing costs, but maintenance and support over a long period of time could mitigate those savings.

Either way, projects like Synapse do pressure commercial vendors to offer customers better deals.

"It raises the bar for commercial products, because vendors have to offer value on top of what open-source solutions can give you," Bloomberg said.

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