Enterprises seek Web services platform unity

Debate emerges over role of integration tools

DEBATE IS GROWING over how completely Web services can span competing software platforms, as enterprises grapple with bridging the interoperability gap between J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) and Microsoft .Net.

Customers evaluating Web services environments now face the task of how, or if, they will employ tools from a number of industry players looking to integrate Java-based J2EE systems running on the back end and .Net on the front end.

The point of decision-making comes as vendors such as Cape Clear, Borland, and Sybase release tools capable of integrating Web services development and deployment environments to build applications that draw on legacy, J2EE, and .Net components.

Cape Clear will release next month a new version of its CapeStudio suite that enables users to assemble components -- including Java, COM (Component Object Model), and CORBA -- that have a WSDL (Web Services Description Language) interface. The suite also blends development, deployment, assembly, and management of Web services, according to Annrai O'Toole, CEO of Cape Clear in Campbell, Calif.

"We don't think customers will see these as entirely separate. They're not going to develop in one tool, then move to another environment to deploy and assemble," O'Toole said.

The news follows the release of development suites this week by Borland and Sybase. Scotts Valley, Calif.-based Borland issued an enhanced version of its Enterprise Studio for Windows, a conglomeration of best-of-breed products, and Emeryville, Calif.-based Sybase brought to market PowerJ 4.0. Sybase calls the product an IDE (integrated development environment) for building, deploying, monitoring, and maintaining applications that run on Sybase's J2EE application server.

The products are similar to Cape Clear's initiative in that they offer more tightly integrated development and deployment environments for Web services.

According to Frank Slootman, vice president of products at Borland, the ultimate goal is to create a development environment where J2EE-based applications and .Net applications can not only interoperate but also be used together to assemble Web services.

"We don't believe that people will be choosing between .Net and J2EE. Most people will end up with pieces of both. These are going to coexist in one way or another, and we think they'll coexist through Web services," Slootman said.

This sentiment is shared by many enterprise customers who are evaluating both .Net and Java options such as Sun ONE (Open Network Environment) and are counting either on the vendors to build bridges between the two options or are planning to work on interoperability themselves.

According to Jerry Gross, CIO and executive vice president of Washington Mutual Bank in Seattle, most large IT shops, and Washington Mutual specifically, have legacy systems and therefore will have to use both J2EE and .Net.

"It would be a more simple world if I could just choose one, but the reality is that we have to deal with both [.Net and Java]," Gross said.

Of course, this situation represents a medium-term opportunity for companies such as Iona Technologies, which last November reorganized to focus on providing tools to connect .Net and a variety of legacy and J2EE systems.

Until every application vendor has a Web services interface into back-end systems, customers will need adapters and some sort of bridge between not just J2EE and .Net but also with all legacy systems, said Shawn Willett, principal analyst at Sterling, Va.-based Current Analysis.

But companies such as Microsoft, IBM, and Sun propose an alternative solution in which Web services standards such as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), WSDL, and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration) themselves become the bridge between loosely coupled applications in J2EE and .Net environments, implicitly negating the efforts of adapter-style tools builders.

"Web services is going to be one of the common technologies for integrating across both those worlds," said Scott Hebner, director of marketing for WebSphere at Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM.

Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of the .Net platform at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, echoed those sentiments. "The best bridge for J2EE to .Net is going to be Web services," he said.

Analysts agree in theory but questioned whether it would be justified in practice.

"Having applications interrelate just via loosely coupled XML interactions is not enough; you need more. That is where a bridge would come in," said Dana Gardner, an analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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