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Open-Source Project Aims At Middleware

Apache Foundation eyes key obstacles to moving legacy systems to Web services

The open-source community is aiming at another market. The Apache Software Foundation last week launched its Synapse initiative, an open-source effort that seeks to produce a common, standardized way to broker services on a network. If the move results in viable open-source code, it has the potential to challenge several commercial products, such as IBM's WebSphereMQ, Tibco Software's Rendezvous, and webMethods' Fabric.

Businesses increasingly rely on middleware software--messaging, application integration, user directory servers--to connect applications and databases to complete business processes and deliver Web services. But there isn't a single, standardized means of doing so.

Synapse is still a long way from doing that. It's a proposal in what Apache officials call the incubator stage. It needs to graduate to full-fledged project, which is likely to happen later this year. If it does, it will have a predecessor project on which to build, Apache Axis, which provides a straightforward way to implement Simple Object Access Protocol XML messaging for Java applications. Synapse also will have X-Broker, a Web-services layer contributed last week by Infravio Inc. X-Broker lets someone needing a service find it without knowing much about where that service is located or on what system it's running. The combination means Synapse would get under way "with two mature pieces of code," says Miko Matsumura, VP of technology at Infravio. That could help attract a community of developers to fill in the gaps.

The picture lacks appeal to Tibco and other large vendors established in the market for Web-services integration. "For open-source code to succeed, it needs to be supported by the major vendors. Where are the major vendors backing this proposal?" asks Tibco's Rob Meyer, senior product marketing manager for enterprise backbone products.


The Apache Foundation has made waves with open-source projects:

Axis: Simple Object Access Protocol messaging for Java apps

Geronimo: Java application server

Jakarta Struts: Framework for building component interfaces

Tomcat: Java applet server

Synapse backers include Iona Technologies LLC, which recently contributed code toward an open-source enterprise service bus to ObjectWeb, a French development group. An enterprise service bus is messaging middleware that connects users to services on a network, without requiring them to know much about the location of the services.

Other backers include Blue Titan Software Inc., a Web-services-management firm, and Sonic Software Inc., a pioneer in the field of enterprise service buses. A Sri Lanka startup, WSO2, wants to provide commercial support for the code that emerges from Synapse; its three founders are originators of the Synapse proposal to Apache.

Still on the sidelines are Web-services-platform vendors such as Actional, AmberPoint, and Systinet. And no one is sure what IBM will do with its huge investment in WebSphere, yet a growing open-source commitment.

The Synapse Project plans to produce a message-and-brokering system that capitalizes on the latest Web-services standards, including WS-Security for secure Web transactions and WS-Policy for managing Web services. If it can establish a standard services broker, it will have taken a giant step toward overcoming one of the biggest obstacles to converting legacy systems to Web services.

That would also place the Apache Foundation's software at the center of the emerging services-oriented universe. It would constitute an interrelated open-source code "stack," or suite of pieces that work well together. An Apache stack would not only challenge commercial products in the services market but also take on open-source rivals that are trying to establish their own software stacks, such as JBoss, ObjectWeb, and Red Hat.

"Apache is setting a lot of the direction of where open source and Java is going," Forrester Research analyst Michael Gouldes says. The Synapse initiative suggests an ambition to move it from one-among-equals to a peerless provider of open-source code.

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