Smooth Integrators

EAI suites get all your organization's applications to exchange information freely and effectively.

August 5, 2003

18 Min Read
Network Computing logo

All the products fared well in centralizing application integration, and all have good tools for defining business processes. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of them also suffer from complex configuration and setup procedures, and the price tags may give your CFO palpitations. However, well-stocked feature sets will make the cost recoverable, and training is available for all the products.

Lots of Contenders

There are many EAI vendors out there, with offerings ranging from simple processing of database data to multiproduct systems that contain conventional EAI, BPM (business-process management), programmable APIs and support for popular standards. For our tests, we insisted on queue or message support, BPM and centralized reporting. Then, to reduce the number of products under test to a reasonable number, we further limited our selection based on market leadership.

With these requirements in mind, we invited BEA Systems, GXS, IBM Corp., Iona Technologies, Mercator Software, SeeBeyond Technology Corp., Sun Microsystems, Sybase, Tibco Software, Vitria Technology and WebMethods into our lair to see how well they integrated our NWC Inc. information systems. Sun declined, citing resource issues; WebMethods said it felt integration software was too complex to test in the time line we proposed; SeeBeyond asked for more detail about the review but would not commit; and Mercator, Iona and GXS never responded to our numerous calls and e-mails.

That left us with BEA Systems, IBM, Sybase, Tibco and Vitria. BEA Systems, Sybase and IBM were kind enough to work around release date/test date conflicts by sending us products shipping at the time of testing, though new versions will be on the street by the time you read this.The Right Stuff

So what does it take to play in the enterprise-class EAI sandbox? We've identified eight non-negotiable areas. All the products tested met these benchmarks; if you're evaluating an EAI suite for your organization, keep this list in mind:

• Directory support: The days of separate directories should be behind us. We spend too much time and money updating our corporate directories to put replication all over the place or distribute directory data throughout the enterprise. LDAP and ADS are the minimum requirement.

• Database support: You shouldn't have to pay extra for database support, and at a minimum, Oracle, DB2/UDB and SQL Server need to be included. The system should also let you store metadata in whatever database you wish.

• Logging, FTP and exception support: Believe it or not, some vendors call these items "value add" and charge you for them. Welcome to the 21st century. They should be free, or you should negotiate to get them free.• Transaction support: Most enterprise data and application integration tasks are transaction-oriented. You don't want some pieces of an update to go through and the rest not to. More and more in the EAI world, those transactions are multitarget (for example, System 1 and System 2 must update, or the entire transaction rolls back). An EAI app should support single-target, multi-instruction and multitarget transactions.

• Development: To reap cost savings in EAI, a useful development tool is necessary. You must be able to generate a minimally working system in a mostly drag-and-drop method. If every connection you define requires coding, you are not going to save much time over coding directly in the application.

• Management console: Your systems and network administrators are going to be working with this system much longer than your developers will be working to get it running. The management console must be simple and make it easy to take in system status at a glance.

Vendors at a Glanceclick to enlarge

• Transport: The system must support some form of store-and-forward or message queuing system. Examples are JMS (Java Messaging Services) and IBM MQ. It should also support targeted messaging, so that time-critical transactions are completed in a timely manner. MQ is more time-sensitive than it has been in the past, but this requirement still exists.

• Redundancy/load balancing: You must have options if your system goes down or is overloaded. Support for failover and load balancing are more than you should ask of an EAI product, but look at pricing for putting it behind a hardware load balancer; some vendors charge you the same for your hot backup as for your production server, while others work with F5 Networks' iControl API for its Big-IP to enable dynamic load balancing. If you're an F5 customer, ask your vendor if it supports iControl.Talk to Me

After months of hunkering down in our NWC Inc. lab, we believe that any product tested will meet most companies' integration needs. The question is, which will do it for the least cash?

Our answer: Sybase's Integration Orchestrator. Orchestrator is a masterful stroke in the EAI realm, blending cutting-edge Web services technology with tried-and-true open transport concepts on a hub-and-spoke architecture. UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) support and the ability--unique among rivals--to "package" an EAI "service" as a Web service are major pluses in today's adaptive IT architectures. Making an EAI transaction that can be called from any Web page removes your dependency on database transactions or custom code to kick off a transaction. Dollar for dollar, Integration Orchestrator delivers more functionality and better management capabilities at a quarter of the cost of any other product we tested, earning it our Editor's Choice award.

Integration Orchestrator 4.0 is a brand-new product. The disk set we got for testing was still warm from the oven--it was the same set that went to manufacturing for this release.

Orchestrator stands out from the crowd in many ways. Some of its added functionality is just a question of release timing, but it shows a clear future vision that pegs Web services as an integral part of EAI.

The installation process involved several well-documented steps, and it went off without a hitch. Configuration was pretty simple as well, with the exception of making JDBC (Java Database Connectivity) work correctly--this problem also plagued most other products. Once we had the system installed, we started to set up the transactions, first by making a database connection that could be used by the business process. Orchestrator, like almost all the other products we tested, became troublesome at this point. Connecting to databases using JDBC, as well as getting the connection to return valid data, was difficult.Luckily, once we got the connection string in the format expected for each of our databases, things rapidly became easier, and the rest of our configuration was a breeze.

On the usability side, Sybase has retooled its EAI user interface. The result is a more intuitive development experience, combined with a streamlined management console that showed us everything we needed without gumming the works with extras. Sybase's use of the open-source Eclipse editor to implement the interface let the company concentrate on the important work of EAI instead of reinventing a UI. We are happy to report that this is a growing trend in the EAI market.

Orchestrator's BPM designer, which is based on the Eclipse editor, was excellent. Autodetection of UDDI Web services is a useful feature, and database endpoint creation was no more difficult than that of competitors.

More EAI Statsclick to enlarge

Just a word or two about autodetection: UDDI has not taken off yet, but we do see a place for it short-term with corporate directories behind the firewall.

Orchestrator makes creating objects defined in your corporate UDDI directory as easy as, "Point at the directory and say: 'Discover Web services!'" If you use this feature correctly, you might just reap some of that reuse that's been touted since the early days of SmallTalk. Using the designer as Orchestrator's management interface is a possible negative, but we found that completely separating the views minimized the hassle.Sybase gave us a choice of JMS, MQ or files as transport mechanisms, meaning that we could work with our existing corporate infrastructure. The ability to query a UDDI server to define a Web service as an endpoint for an EAI service stands far above the competition at this time. Allowing us to retrieve interface information from a file or URL meant we were not restricted to Web services that were published in a directory.

EAI Suite Featuresclick to enlarge

Orchestrator also let us read WSDL (Web Services Description Language) from the file system or from the URL at which the Web service is deployed. We had a little trouble getting schemas/endpoints/operations to build on one another--operations repeatedly failed to map to the database correctly--but this is likely a learning curve issue.

Orchestrator's autogeneration of WSDL for EAI "services" is unmatched by any product we tested. Sybase has laid out the interface so services are already grouped under a "services" tab in the project view. Very intuitive if you're thinking Web services, and it also fits EAI nicely.

Orchestrator's mapping functionality was sound, allowing us to map from the output of a Web service in the same manner as mapping from the columns in a database. Both use XML to store the interface definition, meaning that we could look at the generated interfaces easily if there were translation problems.

Finally, Sybase offers "viewlets" free on the Web. These are a collection of tutorials done in Flash that walk you through each step of the integration process and give you a leg up on that learning curve. A small thing, perhaps, but indicative of the quality of this product.Integration Orchestrator 4.0, $25,000 per CPU, $12,500 per CPU for standby license, $7,500 per CPU for development and testing license (from one to four CPUs), $75,000 as tested. Sybase, (925) 236-5000, (800) 8-SYBASE.

BusinessWare is Vitria's EAI/BPM product, with support for Web services, JMS, IBM's MQ or Vitria's built-in transport.

BusinessWare installation was relatively simple, with the same JDBC issues that most other vendors had--when trying to configure JDBC to work with our test databases, each JDBC driver required different sets of parameters organized in a different manner. All accept user name, for example, but all want slightly different formats.

The relatively easy-to-use BPM designer that comes with BusinessWare is divided into "business layer" and "low-level," facilitating the use of business analysts to configure business-layer interactions and IS staff to design low-level interactions. We tested this premise, and Vitria makes a clear case for its design philosophy.

All our required functionality is present in BusinessWare, and more. We found the ability to easily switch directory and messaging providers a nice plus; you won't have to jump through too many hoops if you ever swap out parts of your infrastructure. Other vendors take differing approaches to directory services: BEA bundles them with its product; IBM requires that you create special accounts in ADS or LDAP, but does not supply a directory; and Sybase and Tibco use your directory or a bundled one.

The management console is overly complete, trying to give the administrator access to absolutely everything. While this might help track down problems, it did not facilitate our at-a-glance problem determination as other products did. We found that sticking to the main page minimized this problem; from there we could start, stop, undeploy and review alerts of running applications. During our tests--admittedly not as complex as a production enterprise integration is likely to be--we were frustrated by the amount of data presented in the initial management views.BusinessWare earned its second-place berth thanks to its attractive pricing. While you won't be sorry if you choose it, management is not as straightforward as with other products.

BusinessWare 4.1.1, $245,000 as tested. Vitria Technology, (408) 212-2700. www.vitria.comBusinessWorks is Tibco's BPM solution laid atop its ActiveEnterprise core messaging suite. The BusinessWorks designer is intuitive, not cluttered like some of its competitors.

Installation was relatively simple, but like most rivals, JDBC was a pain to get configured correctly: Yet again, we were forced to finagle parameters and parameter order until we were able to connect with each database. Once database connections were complete, we were able to move forward with the BPM designer.

The design tool in BusinessWorks was straightforward, with integration parts divvied up much more cleanly than competitors. Shared resources were in a single folder, where we could easily go back and reuse them during our testing. All the functionality we required in an EAI package, including real-time updates and Web services support, was present.

While it took us as many steps to create a simple database-field-to-database-field update as it would have with a rival, BusinessWorks made the process less painful by using Tibco's Rendezvous transport agent and ActiveDatabase connections. Support for creation of Web services out of EAI modules is an excellent benefit that other vendors will pick up on quickly. A more intuitive version of this feature contributed to Integration Orchestrator winning this review, and BEA has informed us that this functionality will be in its next release of WebLogic Integration.BusinessWorks did make creation of database connections easier by giving us the JDBC connection, a publisher and a transport for the data. Triggers in its database sent update and insert notifications, then showed us the interface we needed to connect to via the trigger definition, which we then "mapped" to the object (called the publisher) that distributes the message. All in all, a little easier to do the job, and one less object to track. While WebLogic has a similar implementation, during our testing we preferred the simplified configuration of these integrations offered by BusinessWorks.

BusinessWorks' management interface is also cleaner than those of rivals, with the ability to start and stop applications and view critical alerts and system status. Everything systems administrators need, without a lot of excess to confuse the issue--but also not much break on the price.

Tibco BusinessWorks 2.0.4, $350,000 as tested. Tibco Software, (650) 846-1000.

BEA was one of two vendors to send us the version of its product that was shipping at the time this article was written. While we found WebLogic Integration 7.0 able to meet all our needs and then some, in testing we determined that there are just too many pieces of WebLogic to keep track of, and a centralized user interface is an essential step for BEA.

The product BEA shipped us was much more far-reaching than simply EAI with BPM. It included a portal, B2B integration tools and several smaller products. We installed and evaluated only the EAI and BPM portions of the system.

Installation was relatively simple; we didn't encounter any major problems. But configuration left us frustrated with the JDBC choices offered. WebLogic's documentation talks about the MicrosoftJDBC driver for SQL Server and the BEA-supplied JDBC driver for SQL Server. The two take different parameters and have different levels of JDBC compliance, causing a bit more delay in getting things running compared with our experience using other products. With WebLogic, as with the competition, this is a one-time expense: Once you figure out the connection strings and class names, you can copy them from existing projects.

Even so, configuring JDBC was just a little more frustrating with WebLogic than with other products; and as part of its reliability, there is an extra step (connection pooling) required when configuring databases in WebLogic that is not needed for most of the products we tested.

Because BEA shipped us its whole integration toolkit enchilada, the management console was cluttered. We couldn't find a simple way to say "Show us only what we want" within our time constraints. BEA says a subsequent version of the product offers a redesigned, separate management console.

For functionality, WebLogic has it all. While the version under test lacked a complete implementation of Web services support, BEA says it will remedy this in version 8.1, which should be available by the time you read this.

BEA WebLogic Integration 7.0, $62,000 per CPU; $288,000 as tested. BEA Systems, (800) 817-4BEA, (408) 570-8000. www.bea.comIBM also sent us its shipping product, though it will have a new version available by the time this review goes to print. Features IBM says will change are noted.MQ Integrator's architecture is unique among the products under test. Based on IBM's MQ Series product line, it layers a GUI-based BPM modeler over the MQ interface. To gain all the functionality in MQ Integrator 2.1, we had to install DB2, which comes with Integrator. If you want to live without some of the advanced features, you can run Integrator on other database platforms, notably SQL Server and Oracle. Because we were pitting these products against one another, we deployed IBM on DB2. Even with DB2, however, installation was difficult at best.

MQ Integrator was the most difficult to install and configure of all the products we tested. To follow the recommended installation, we first had to install and configure DB2. We were unable to get Integrator to install with a remote DB2 installation during our testing; only a local DB2 install would work. Once DB2 was installed and configured, MQSeries had to be installed and configured, including creation of queues and queue managers. Once all this was done, we could finally install MQ Integrator. IBM assured us that the release available when this article prints will have implemented "single-click" installation to give you a minimum running configuration without layered prerequisite installs. While installation is a small part of an EAI project, it is mandatory.

Integrator's design interface was easy to learn and use, with MQ Series queues as the transport mechanism. Integrator has connectors for major database vendors, and we could write "hooks" to handle data coming into and out of our custom applications (this behavior is actually part of the underlying MQ Series). Hook development is being expanded in the next release of WebSphere MQ Integrator, so that you can hook BPM processes also.

BPM process hooks are an essential upcoming addition to MQ Integrator. We want to know when a particular business process kicks off or fails, and we want the data handled differently under these circumstances--for example, inserting into an "Errors" database on failure of any part of a particular business process.

According to IBM, MQ Integrator's next design interface, like Sybase's current solution, will be based on the Eclipse editor. For management, Integrator 2.1 let us manage queues, interfaces and database connections. The largest long-term negative to MQ Integrator is error logging: When we ran into difficulties, we were forced to check three places--MQ, the system event log and DB2. We hope IBM will eliminate this annoyance.IBM WebSphere MQ Integrator 2.1, $80,000 per processor, $320,000 as tested. IBM, (800) 426-4968.

Don MacVittie is an application engineer at WPS Resources. Write to him at [email protected].

Post a comment or question on this story.To put EAI applications through their paces, we configured systems in our NWC Inc. Real-World Business Applications Lab in Green Bay, Wis. (See for more information on NWC Inc.)


• Inventory-Control System: Dell 2650 dual-CPU machine with 512 MB of memory running Oracle.• Order-Fulfillment System: Dell 1650 single-CPU machine with 256 MB of memory running SQL Server.

• CIS/Order-Entry System: Quad-processor Compaq machine with

1 GB of memory running DB2.

• EAI Server: We installed each EAI product on a single 18-GB SCSI disk in an eight-processor Hewlett-Packard ProLiant DL760 running Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server.

The ScenarioNWC Inc. is in the business of creating widgets for sale on the Internet. Orders are taken online at our Web site (, and widgets are produced at our Syracuse, N.Y., manufacturing facility. They are then shipped direct from our headquarters in Green Bay, Wis., to customers via a method the customers choose when they order.

Our Oracle system represents the NWC Inc. production facility, where all widgets are created. SQL Server represents a purchased package that tracks shipping of customer orders, and DB2 is our core customer and order-fulfillment system. Whenever the production facility finishes a run of widgets, it puts an entry into the Oracle database indicating how many widgets of which type were created. When a customer completes an online order form, order information is entered into the DB2 database by the order-entry system. Finally, when an order is shipped to a customer, the shipping information is updated in SQL Server.

We defined the interactions between the systems as follows:

1. When the production facility indicates it has produced a number of widgets, the information should be propagated to our core system and to the shipping system.

2. When an order is entered over the Web, order information should be propagated to the shipping database.3. When an order is shipped, information that it has been shipped should be propagated to the main system, which will update both inventory on hand and customer orders fulfilled.

This setup gave us plenty of opportunity to test the ability of the EAI products to integrate systems based on various databases, on a real-time basis.

Because our deployment EAI machine was beefier than you would normally see in a production environment, we used a more standardized sample deployment for price comparisons. "As tested" prices listed in this article are based on the following configuration:

• One dual-processor production machine.

• One dual-processor development/testing machine.• One dual-processor production backup machine (offline, cold backup).

Web Links

"W3C, Oasis Look for Common Web Services Ground" (InternetWeek Aug. 28, 2002)

"Securing Web Services" (TechWeb)"Wash Away Those Web Service Testing BluesWith Parasoft's SOAPtest" (Network Computing, June 24, 2002)

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights