A bus by many different names

BEA, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle steer established middlewares toward SOA

The definition of the ESB (enterprise service bus) is often in the eye of the beholder, especially when the beholder is a major vendor with a product line to protect. While the vendors in our roundup were busy working out packaged solutions, the big boys were outside buzzing with promises and revised road maps.

How do BEA, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle spell ESB? For BEA and Oracle, the core is the J2EE app server. For IBM and Microsoft, it’s their message queue.

BEA’s just-unveiled AquaLogic line of service-infrastructure products layers Web-services messaging on its WebLogic application-server architecture. In addition to a centralized repository for discovery and reuse, there appear to be decent provisions for security, monitoring, and lifecycle management of services-enabled applications. Tools for process orchestration and application composition remain on the distant horizon.

Oracle’s April christening of its Fusion Middleware likewise makes the J2EE app server the foundation of an ESB. Native BPEL (Business Process Execution Language)-support, by way of Oracle’s Collaxa acquisition, adds open process orchestration to the mix. Also included are a rules-execution engine and seemingly decent tools for gleaning business intelligence.

IBM describes its recently released WebSphere MQ 6 as a worthy foundation for an ESB. As such, MQ 6 lacks certain essentials such as advanced message brokering and a repository, for example, but Big Blue maintains that by including other components from its WebSphere portfolio, an ESB can be stitched together.

Along similar lines, Microsoft’s Indigo paints the picture of a future communications infrastructure that incorporates the MSMQ messaging bus and extensions for Web services. When combined with BizTalk, Indigo may begin to conceptually approach an ESB, although its modularity will remain a key differentiator. Further, the success of Indigo will be directly linked to the degree of WS-* protocol support that Microsoft implements.

As established middleware vendors step up their efforts around the service bus model, it will become increasingly difficult for early leaders to maintain their edge. Many will be consumed, others will fade away. For today’s buyer, this naturally presents a sticking point. If you can’t seamlessly swap the service bus assets acquired today for those of another vendor tomorrow, how will the cost of adoption have been better than walking the EAI line in the first place? Plan your trip carefully. The road ahead may turn sooner than you think.