SeeBeyond goes against popular wisdom of EAI

CEO Jim Demetriades and VP Alex Andrianopoulos dispute relying on app server vendors for EAI

THE COMMON WISDOM of the day in the software industry is that it doesn't make sense to build your own application server. After all, there are four major vendors battling to distribute applications servers all over the enterprise. But for SeeBeyond CEO Jim Demetriades and Vice President of Product Management Alex Andrianopoulos, relying on broad adoption of application servers doesn't make sense. In an interview with InfoWorld Editor in Chief Michael Vizard and Test Center Director Steve Gillmor, they argue that real-time collaborative application integration is best served by companies that are experts in the field and have control over their own application servers.

InfoWorld: What makes SeeBeyond unique in the EAI (enterprise application integration) space?

Demetriades: We now have about 1,700 customers, and we have by far the largest customer base of EAI technology in the world. We operate in 17, 18 countries now and have technology which is being used in a variety of capacities to integrate many of the world's largest companies' information together. In fact, two of America's Fortune 10 companies selected us as their corporate standard, and we're the only company ... that has been selected as the corporate standard for integration in the Fortune 10, as far as I know. By corporate standard, I mean there is no other technology that they're using. That's General Motors and Philip Morris.

We were the first company two years ago to release a version of a software that had application-to-application business-to-business integration and business process management built into one complete architecture. We have in production numerous customers with over 500 different systems integrated. We have several customers that expect to [have] over 1,000 systems integrated by the end of this year. And what this is doing is it's creating that real digital nervous system that we've talked about for so long.

Andrianopoulos: A very radical and important differentiator between us and our competitors is our completely distributed network-centric architecture. We have an architecture that emulates the principles of the Internet and the principles of redundancy. We have intelligent adapters, run in unison and in parallel across multiple servers.

InfoWorld: One of the things people hear a lot about from SeeBeyond is that all your technology is homegrown vs. acquired. Why should this matter to customers?

Andrianopoulos: We have actually generated a very comprehensive suite that delivers the full gamut of features and functions necessary for Global 2000 companies. At the end of the day, EAI and e-business integration overall is a complex beast. What customers are looking for is usability and time to market with a set of solutions. Having unified design concepts and architectural philosophies across a suite makes for a more usable, more scalable, more robust, and reliable product. The same paradigms apply for a-to-a [application-to-application] as they apply to b-to-b [business-to-business]. Customers demand a unified suite that delivers the management and maintenance facilities through a unified interface and a unified run-time component.

InfoWorld: What exactly is the difference between EAI and business process management?

Andrianopoulos: EAI is the general umbrella that covers a number of different notions. Business process management is an important and necessary component of EAI. Customers are craving for something that we call the e-application, which in essence is a composite application that is derived from individual components which, on their own, are applications. For example, customers are trying to create an application that delivers value by putting together components such as the SAP, the Siebel suite, the PeopleSoft suite, and so on and so forth. Putting those together in an EAI environment doesn't just mean interchanging data through pipes that an EAI vender offers. It also means putting them together and orchestrating the interactions in a meaningful fashion to create what we call the e-application, the composite application. Those interactions can be orchestrated and deliver value to the customers through our business process management layer. We have a technology toolset that we call Business Process Manager, which enables you to create a cross-application as well as a cross-enterprise business process model that emulates what the company is doing, and then with that model drives the integration layers from top to bottom.

InfoWorld: How do Web services play out in that environment?

Andrianopoulos: Web services are an evolution of technology and produce the appropriate catalysts for more companies to adopt the notion of EAI. It basically eases integration down at the commodity layer, which is basically the planning layer, and opens up the minds of folks in understanding that EAI delivers significant value to customers.

InfoWorld: So Web services then do not mean that EAI is obsolete?

Demetriades: Different types of standards don't solve the problems of integration. There's really a very simple reason why they don't. From an IT perspective, what you're faced with is decades of infrastructure. So there [are] just a tremendous number of new and old standards which have to be supported. It's as simple as that. All of these things are fine and usable standards, and they're important standards. But they don't necessarily solve the problem of integration. But Web services, we hope, just like all messaging standards, will reduce the overall cost of integration by 10 [percent] to, say, 50 percent.

InfoWorld: Where do Web services go from here?

Andrianopoulos: The existing standards are not enough to fulfill the promise of Web services. Web services have been promising a number of things. The real promise of basically interconnectivity between applications that Web services can offer needs to come with additional standards as well. Specifying how I'm going to connect to a service or how I'm going to find a service and how I'm going to understand the service is not enough. If I'm using a service that some other party offers, I want more assurances that that service will be up when I need it. There needs to be a significant effort in the industry to create more standards, more layers, more robustness in Web services to cover things such as transactionality, security, performance, and partner agreements, or what's called the quality-of-service imperative.

There are initiatives out there that probably are going to be folded into the Web services, such as the ebXML [e-business XML] initiative, that are very promising. But business process management, business process optimization, trading partner management, transactional security, transactional integrity, centralized management, high throughput, [and] load balancing are all parts of the technology stack that are not today addressed by Web services. Any self-respecting EAI vendor who claims that they offer EAI technology with Web services needs to ensure that they offer technology across all those layers of the EAI technology stack I just mentioned.

InfoWorld: Are you one of those vendors that supports Web services?

Andrianopoulos: Absolutely we do. We have released technology that supports Web services since the Q3 of 2001. Our customers can act either as Web services consumers or act as Web services producers. And we provide the ability today to execute a Web service in an asynchronous manner and a synchronous manner.

InfoWorld: Application server vendors like to argue that they are the new design center for EAI. How do you counter that argument?

Andrianopoulos: Everybody wants a piece of EAI, and of course the app server [vendors] say you don't need an EAI vendor. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Custom solutions using point-to-point connectivity are not maintainable and you cannot produce the ROI necessary for that project to be successful. Just because you are going to do a point-to-point solution based on standards doesn't mean that the limitations and liabilities of a point-to-point solution are not there any longer.

Demetriades: There is really no major software company that has chosen to standardize on BEA or IBM's app servers. Not SAP, not Microsoft, not J.D. Edwards -- nobody. These app server companies are very simply trying to push in to build more capability into their products. But what they fail to realize is that the development of EAI is, in fact, as complicated as the development of app servers. And they don't have a very robust messaging infrastructure that offers distributed, fault-tolerant, transactional integrity. What they have is a way of building applications that can connect to an app server. You still need to build an Oracle database or some other queuing or infrastructure behind them.

InfoWorld: So at the end of the day, what's the best thing about Web services?

Demetriades: We're looking forward to the adoption of these standards by the application companies. It'll reduce the time and effort it takes for us to build the connections. Remember, we're not a services company, we're a software company.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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