Catch the services bus

Iona's XMLBus 5.0 is the first stop for business-process modeling in Web services integration

IN THE RACE to Web services integration, key differentiators will come not from underlying protocols and technologies but from the ease and speed with which companies are able to deploy services and begin capitalizing on their efficiencies. One of the strongest showings among Web services platforms is Iona Technologies' Orbix E2A Web Services Integration Platform, XMLBus Edition 5.0.

Iona made a name for itself with mainframe integration and CORBA middleware solutions during the past decade. XMLBus 5.0 is the latest edition of its recently rebranded e-business framework, Orbix E2A (end-to-anywhere).

XMLBus delivers a Java-based technology framework for developing, deploying, monitoring, and managing Web services based on applications from a broad variety of platforms, including J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), CORBA, Microsoft .Net, and J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition). Impressively, the platform sports a solid business-process modeling engine, allowing companies to graphically compose complex workflows using componentized Web services, improving flexibility and garnering cost savings through ready code reuse.

XMLBus 5.0 lacks the enterprise-strength adapters and strong authentication found in Iona's more advanced Collaborate Edition, as well as some of the amenities for XML and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration) registry manipulation offered in competitive frameworks such as CapeConnect from Cape Clear. Nevertheless, it is well-suited to projects in which assimilating customized standards and applications will not be an inhibiting factor. With features such as wizard-driven development, real-time testing, debugging, and monitoring tools, as well as container-based hot-deployment of Web services for uninterrupted performance, XMLBus lays the groundwork for a quick ramp up of Web services efforts in the enterprise, warranting our highest rating of Deploy.

We installed and configured the myriad XMLBus components quite easily, including the Web services engine, the SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) Message Spy, and the Process Engine, with only minor tweaking of our environment.

The Web services engine, responsible for validating and brokering SOAP-based communications, employs a container-based approach to services management. The container holds the Web services archive packages containing everything necessary for deployment, including SOAP and endpoint configurations, WSDL (Web Services Description Language) references, EJB (Enterprise JavaBeans) references, and Java classes. The archive mechanism isolates much of the underlying run-time intricacies and affords good centralized administration.

The stand-alone version of XMLBus includes the Tomcat JSP (Java Server Pages) and Jakarta Project servlet engine; deploying EJB-based services requires an additional, J2EE-compliant application server such as BEA WebLogic, IBM WebSphere, or Iona's own iPortal Application Server. But the setup routine installs the Web service container directly to the application server during installation, so EJB deployment takes little extra effort.

XMLBus's graphical, wizard-driven development and testing tools proved top-notch, and we were able to quickly package our archive files and deploy them to the Web services container. The XMLBus Builder application can create interface specifications from Java classes, EJBs, and CORBA objects and can generate skeleton code from WSDL files.

We used the included UDDI browser to search and locate WSDL interfaces from external repositories. Although the tool was adequate, we felt it could benefit from more advanced search and sort functionality to help streamline the process.

The Web services Test Client offered a good JSP-based means of validating our services. The SOAP Message Spy, used to monitor SOAP traffic, offered insight we could use to fine-tune message handling.

XMLBus would benefit from some additional capabilities, such as wizards for direct manipulation of XML transformations and an integrated UDDI repository for in-house use, but generally, our experience of working with XMLBus was favorable and efficient.

One of the most impressive aspects of the XMLBus framework comes by way of the Process Engine and the XDI Developer Suite. Here, the graphical environment enables nontechnical developers to focus on core business logic and model complex processes out of Web services building blocks. Use of the Process Engine encourages reusability among Web service components, helping to reduce new development costs and increase the ease with which out-of-house services can be woven into larger in-house process flows.

Although the functionality of the Process Engine is limited in the XMLBus Edition, requiring companies to upgrade to the beefier Collaborate version for additional functionality, we found the XDI Developer Suite and monitoring tools to provide everything we needed for building, editing, and debugging process interactions.

Although investing in Iona raises concerns over its long-term staying power against deep-coffered competitors such as IBM and BEA, the impressive showing from XMLBus, in concert with a broad portfolio of platform integration support, goes a long way toward quelling apprehensions.

Orbix E2A Web Services Integration Platform, XMLBus Edition 5.0 represents a comprehensive platform for orchestrating services-based integration within the enterprise. Solid Web services development and management tools, as well as a mind for business-process management, will prove XMLBus beneficial to cutting costs, improving reusability, and ensuring competitiveness in distributed Web services computing.

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