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Simplified Message Transformation And Forwarding Promised

A newcomer promises to solve "80% of the application-integration problem."
A company headed by Fred Meyer, the former chief strategist of Tibco Software Inc., has brought out a simplified message-transformation and -forwarding device as preconfigured hardware that Meyer claims can solve "80% of the application-integration problem." Cast Iron Systems is expected Tuesday to reveal its Application Router, a piece of "standard Intel hardware" that has been given Cast Iron's message-handling and -routing software. It will be priced from $30,000 to $100,000, depending on configuration, Meyer says.

In addition, Application Router includes a Studio front end that allows a businessperson to set up exchanges with a partner company without needing to know the intricacies of EDI or XML. The Application Router can be used for different types of partner exchanges, such as taking an EDI-formatted document and changing it into an XML-based document. On a more basic level, it can list the attributes of a sender's company's document on the left side of a Studio split screen, then list how those attributes should appear to the receiver on the right side, Meyer says. An early user is Pat Lawrence, CIO of Prime Source Food Service Equipment Inc., a distributor of restaurant equipment from 700 manufacturers. With two months worth of experience, Lawrence says he can define how a Prime Source purchase order looks in Studio, "then map it into how that vendor would like to receive it."

For example, Lawrence can enter a purchase-order number, then draw a line from it to a box on the other side of the screen where the number is listed after "PO NO," the way the receiving vendor abbreviates "purchase order." The result, he said, is a document that's sent in the format that the receiver expects. It's reconverted to Prime Source's format when it's confirmed and sent back by the recipient, he says.

With a large manufacturer, he may need to convert the Prime Source purchase order to EDI, but only 25% of Prime Source's suppliers use EDI. Prime Source itself hasn't invested in a $60,000 EDI system it would need to automate exchanges with EDI-equipped manufacturers, nor does it have EDI or XML expertise within its IT staff of seven.

So the Application Router is useful with Prime Source's many suppliers who like to use XML or even simpler formats, such as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, as well as the EDI-powered ones, Lawrence says.

"We have a graphical way to build all these different documents and communicate with them to our vendors," Lawrence says. The ability to configure purchase orders applies to other types of exchanges as well, such as sharing shipping information with a partner that uses a different form of tracking number than Prime Source. Meyer say that he knows even large companies with full-bore enterprise-application integration, such as the Tibco Software product line, still leave areas of the company uncovered by application integration.

"Everywhere you see an EAI or application server product, you'll probably find a gray ring around it" where the sinews of integration don't reach. Cast Iron fills in the "gray area" with its hardware/software-based integration, Meyer says. A large airline might have strong EAI at its headquarters, but its maintenance group in Frankfurt, Germany, is probably outside its reach. Nevertheless, administrators in that group may wish to check the central inventory of aircraft parts and not be able to, he says. He consequently conceived of a device designed to be simple and aimed at "midmarket companies that don't have an integration solution or a departmental organization within a Global 2000 company that can't afford a full-blown solution." The Cast Iron Intel server comes with software written in C++ to automatically handle connections between E-mail systems, EDI, XML, flat-file, relational-database, and package-vendor applications, such as SAP or PeopleSoft. It doesn't translate messages from IBM's WebSphere MQ, the former MQ Series, Meyer says, because the segment of the market that Cast Iron is aiming for is not a large user of MQ Series.