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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
Horne points to the exceptional handling and real-time alerting capabilities built into SeeBeyond's Business Integration Suite software as an example of features that go beyond connectivity.

"The companies that thrive will embrace Web-services standards and innovate on top of them," webMethod's Astor says. The vendor is working to make its software able to handle differences in data definitions and semantics in company-to-company communications and to integrate different versions of enterprise applications.

EAI vendors argue that rather than reducing demand for EAI software, Web services will expand demand for their products by reducing the cost of buying and deploying EAI applications, thus making them available to a broader range of companies. Web services and EAI "are somewhat complementary," Forrester's Leaver says. "They really aren't competing right now."

That's the case within many companies. While General Motors relies on EAI software to glue together its core operational applications, Web services could let company developers build business logic or functionality into one central application that other applications can tap into, instead of laboriously building the same logic into dozens, even hundreds, of apps, CTO Scott says.

For instance, the automaker is always developing new applications with business rules for using the vehicle identification numbers of the cars it manufactures. It would greatly simplify development by building a single application containing VIN business rules that other applications can connect to using Web services, Scott says.

Lend Lease Corp., a real-estate-management services provider, uses Vitria's BusinessWare software to link custom apps used by property managers to back-end financial applications. Closing the company's books every quarter now takes one or two days, compared with the 20 days it took before the company installed the EAI system, principal Brian Dillon says.

But the company finds that Web services come in handy, and Dillon sees EAI and Web-services technologies as complementary. Last year, Lend Lease programmers used the open-source Apache Axis implementation of the Simple Object Access Protocol spec to connect a Microsoft .Net-based app for home-design and construction project management with a Java-based general-ledger app. Although Vitria offers Web-services adapters for its EAI system, Dillon says their functionality was limited and didn't provide the needed visibility into the Soap messages passing between the apps.

Avnet uses the Web-services capabilities built into webMethods' software to integrate its own apps, such as linking a customer-relationship management system with order-processing and order-status applications, and to offer order-management applications as services to Avnet customers. "We're tying together a bunch of legacy technologies to create a whole new value proposition," Chapman says. "I look at Web services as a subset of EAI."

Design software developer Autodesk Inc. is taking a more cautious approach. The company uses SeeBeyond's EAI software to integrate more than a dozen back-office applications, including SAP apps and Amdocs Ltd.'s Clarify. Independent of the EAI software, Autodesk developers are exploring how Web services can be used to give channel partners access to ordering, product-registration, customer-support, and product-pricing and -configuration applications through Autodesk's portal, IT architect Justin Gamache says.

Until Web-services standards mature and more-robust development tools are available, Autodesk will likely limit its use of Web services. For the moment, at least, it's not a replacement for EAI, Gamache says. But he acknowledges that could change as Web services catch on. "It does put the spotlight on EAI's long-term value," he says. If the EAI vendors respond with innovation, everyone will win.