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A Win-Win Combination?

Web services can make integration easier, but many companies say they still need EAI for the toughest jobs

Application development groups throughout General Motors Corp. are using Web services to integrate business processes. So the automaker will be cut- ting back on its use of enterprise application integration software, right?

Nope. "We're pretty heavy into SeeBeyond as our corporate standard for application integration," chief technology officer Tony Scott says. GM uses the EAI software to link the company's high-volume transaction legacy and enterprise resource planning systems. "Those are the heavy-lifting applications," Scott says. And for those, Web services just don't cut it.

With all the noise about how Web-services standards will simplify application integration, it would be easy to think that EAI software -- often based on proprietary technology and usually expensive -- will soon go the way of the floppy disk. But while Web services provide standard interfaces for connecting applications, they don't deliver the heavy-duty business-process integration, data transformation, scalability, and security capabilities that EAI products do.

Web services "don't provide any of the other industrial-strength capabilities that are required by enterprise applications," says Andy Astor, enterprise Web services VP at webMethods Inc. Transactional integrity, scalability, security, messaging, and process management are some of the services EAI software offers that Web services don't, he says. Web services also don't help integrate custom-built legacy applications, Gartner analyst Joanne Correia says.

Bill Chapman, group information officer and senior VP in Avnet's computer-marketing organization

Avnet uses the Web-services capabilities built into webMethods' EAI software to integrate its own apps, Chapman says.
Those are the kinds of capabilities computer-products distributor Avnet Inc. needed two years ago when it used webMethods' Integration Platform to integrate its Cobol-based transaction system, built in the 1980s, with newer Web-based applications that give price-quote and order-processing services to customers and suppliers. Compared with manually building links between the legacy and Web applications, the EAI software has reduced the amount of time needed to build applications that tap into the old transaction system from as much as eight months to six weeks or less, says Bill Chapman, group information officer and senior VP in Avnet's computer-marketing organization.

In addition to providing integration hubs, EAI vendors sell proprietary adapters for specific enterprise applications and legacy systems, with price tags of $25,000 to $150,000 each. Adapters are a significant component of most EAI deals, says Forrester Research analyst Sharyn Leaver, and they can't be replaced with Web services.

But while Web services may not mark the end of EAI, they're reshaping the enterprise application integration market. Leading vendors -- including BEA Systems, IBM, SeeBeyond Technology, Tibco Software, Vitria, and webMethods -- have been adding Web-services interfaces to their software in addition to the proprietary adapters they offer for legacy systems and enterprise applications. That should give IT managers more and less-expensive integration options.

The average EAI deal runs $500,000 to $750,000, although the slowdown in IT spending has created some pressure to lower prices. As Web-services standards mature and basic connectivity becomes a commodity, prices will decline 10% to 15% every year for EAI software that fails to continually add new capabilities, predicts Chris Horne, senior product marketing manager at SeeBeyond.

That's why EAI vendors put more emphasis on the higher-value capabilities their products provide, including reliable messaging, business-process management, connectivity to legacy systems, security, and transactional integrity. "For us, Web services is just another standard to support," says Ramin Sayar, products and solutions director at Tibco. Business-activity monitoring, security, and data-interaction standards are among the value-added services Tibco's EAI system provides, he says.

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