ESB vendors enhance their 'SOA middleware'

Iona and Sonic recently launched new enhancements to their Enterprise Service Bus products. Meanwhile, the industry is still grappling with the concept of ESB.

While the concept of an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) still has many scratching their heads, the ESB market is starting

to bloom early this spring, in accordance with analysts' predictions.

Sonic Software Corp. and Iona Technologies both unveiled new enhancements to their ESB products this month. The announcements coincide with predictions that Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. is making about the ESB market picking up in 2005.

On Monday, Iona unveiled Version 3.0 of its Artix ESB platform. The Dublin, Ireland-based vendor's latest release includes enhanced support for integrated development environments such as Eclipse and Visual Studio. It also improves its integration with mainframes using Web Services Description Language-centric development and generation techniques.

Earlier this month, Bedford, Mass.-based Sonic Software Corp. unveiled two new additions to its ESB: the Sonic Collaboration Server and the Sonic Database Service.

Sonic's Collaboration Server facilitates the integration of its ESB with external trading partners using standards-based Web services, or a partner's proprietary protocols.

The Sonic Database Service, meanwhile, leverages drivers from Bedford, Mass.-based DataDirect Technologies to provide out-of-the-box connectivity with relational databases such as Oralce, DB2 and Sybase.

The timing of the two announcements is coincidental and doesn't position the two vendors against one another, according to Gartner analyst Roy Schulte. However, these new products do reflect vendors' desire to start making money in the ESB market.

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In a report published last November, Gartner predicted that more than half of all large enterprises will have an ESB running by year-end 2006.

Sonic was the first vendor to ship an ESB product in 2002. Built on top of its Java Message Service (JMS) product, it adds capabilities for Web services, event management and XML databases.

Iona's Artix 3.0, on the other hand, has a transport-independent architecture that allows customers to plug-in any kind of messaging backbone, according to Schulte.

"Whereas Sonic is wedded to its own messaging system, Artix is more of a layered product that can plug in different messaging systems and operate exactly the same way," Schulte said.

But Sonic's JMS-based messaging system doesn't make it any less interoperable than Artix, according to Schulte.

"You can still interoperate with Sonic using gateways to integrate with products like IBM MQSeries," he said. "The only difference is, you can't pull out their entire messaging layer whereas you can with Iona."

ISB, USB, ESB …

All the confusion surrounding ESBs is partly the fault of vendors, Schulte said.

"They used it as a [marketing] label on top of products that were fairly different from one another."

In a report to be published next month, Gartner identifies the five main characteristics that a middleware subsystem needs to implement in order to be qualified as an ESB. They are communication, address indirection and intelligent routing, Web services, meta data and mediation.

"An ESB is real software that you put on your machine that acts as an enterprise backbone," Schulte said.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that ESBs have been referred to as everything from a product to a design pattern.

ESB isn't a design pattern, but IBM has been discussing it that way, Schulte said. Big Blue has been showing how its existing products can be used as an ESB simply by writing some custom code and employing certain design principles.

"An ESB is something you buy like a DBMS," Schulte said. "A DBMS is not a design pattern, it's a piece of software. Just as you can either write your own DBMS or buy one, so too can you buy an ESB or write your own."

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