IBMs unfolding WebSphere vision is spawning new opportunities for large and small integration partners.
WebSphere Business Integrator, the latest entry in Big Blues middleware lineup, uses XML and related standards in an attempt to embed "Web services," including business processes such as payroll and shipping, directly into software components for interchangeable use across the B2B world.
At the same time, IBM is updating WebSphere Application Server for standards compliance with WSDL (Web Services Description Language) at the interface layer, UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) at the directory level, and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) for transport.
Sybase is acquiring EAI specialist New Era of Networks (NEON) for its services-based framework.
Steve Mills, senior VP of IBMs Software Group, sees the companys strategy as one that offers easier integration. "Anything customers buy has to fit into what they already have," says Mills. "The magic is in how you get business processes and technologies aligned."
For solutions providers, the big question boils down to what these developments mean for their bottom line if it is easier and less costly for a customer to implement Web-based services. Some industry observers insist that component-based Web services actually will help integrators to sell by meeting market demands for speedier, less costly integration.
"Customers are saying, I dont want to spend $50 million on an integration project, and take four years to finish it," says Santosh Alexander, CEO of Isphere, an IBM and BEA partner.
In this emerging scenario, the only integrators likely to suffer are those who insist on "tying up multiple billable heads on a long-term basis," says Kurt Milne, director of alliances at Peregrine Systems.
Some integrators, however, might adopt new strategies. Milne detects emerging needs for integrators that can use components to help enterprise customers "iron out the friction points in relationships with other companies."
Currently, only a few IBM customers, such as Charles Schwab, are expert enough with Big Blues new EAI offerings to use the products without outside help, says Jocelyn Attal, VP of IBMs WebSphere Marketing Software Group.
Observers predict a need for Web services in horizontal as well as vertical arenas. "A [service] component could be a calculator, a data-acquisition service or even a search engine," says Gus Tepper, director of Web solutions for Wavebend, a Web integrator.
Many believe that regardless of product ease of use, systems integrators are unlikely to be displaced.