Integration: Hardware or Software?

Microsoft, NetVendor, iWay rekindle debate with partnerships that widen companies' offerings

Which path to integrating disparate systems is better: hardware or software? Both sides of the debate got new ammunition late last month when Microsoft Corp., NetVendor Inc. and iWay Software announced partnerships to broaden their respective integration options.

Microsoft teamed up with CommerceRoute Inc. to help accelerate the adoption of Microsofts .Net and BizTalk framework in an integration appliance. The two companies will develop solutions that enable enterprises to use CommerceRoutes Syncx integration appliance—which transforms data among incompatible systems, applications and databases—to integrate data with Microsofts .Net servers, according to officials at CommerceRoute, in Emeryville, Calif. Neither company released further details or a product road map.

Mike Oleson said he likes the appliance model for integration. Oleson, director of IT at Eldec Corp., in Lynnwood, Wash., estimated it would have cost him six months and about $100,000 to implement Oracle Corp.s translator software to link orders coming in through an electronic data interchange network to Eldecs Oracle financials and manufacturing applications. It took Oleson two months and less than $50,000 to implement a solution using a CommerceRoute appliance.

"Were not really looking at other middleware products. Most of them are elephant guns for what we do; theyre overkill—too expensive and complex," said Oleson, who plans to use CommerceRoutes appliance to integrate other applications as well as to load and map data.

Others tout the appliance approach as a win-win solution for smaller companies looking for an inexpensive means to integrate external partners as well as internal applications. But some customers arent convinced the appliance route is the way to go—even if its backed by the likes of Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash.

For them, there is software on the way. NetVendor said it will integrate SeeBeyond Technology Corp.s eBusiness Integration solutions into the NetVendor business-to-business, sell-side e-commerce platform, E.Mbrace. NetVendor solutions enable seller- centric collaboration for tighter relationships between suppliers and their customers, according to officials at the Atlanta-based company.

Similarly, New York-based middleware vendor iWay Software has partnered with adapter developer Taviz Technology to provide a no-code-on-the-client method for integration through customized adapters.

Jim DeMin, program manger of customer relationship management at Infonet Services Corp., in El Segundo, Calif., said that though he is familiar with integration appliances, he is more comfortable with the software approach. "My concern for the appliances would be things like scalability and flexibility," DeMin said.

His other principle concern in purchasing an appliance is that, even if it does work for current installations, he could very easily lose connectivity with an upgrade.

"So it would cause me to put my systems in a stage of arrested evolution—restrained by this appliance," DeMin said. "There is not much on the market for [appliances], so when I go pound on vendors for an upgrade, there is not much revenue for them. But when you go pound on [an integration software vendor like] Tibco [Software Inc.] or Vitria [Technology Inc.]—theyre already working on an upgrade" for a product thats not yet released.