Metaserver 4 Elevates BPI

Upgraded integration software unites business systems and processes-but at a high price.

One of the newest acronyms in enterprise business applications is BPI, which in many ways seems awfully similar to formerly hot acronyms such as B2B and EAI.

Whatever you call it, business process integration can, when done correctly, make it possible to tie together disparate business systems and applications within a company and among business partners.

Businesses looking to accomplish these tasks will find that they can quickly and effectively link disparate business systems and processes using Metaserver Inc.s Metaserver 4.0, which provides the closest thing to a GUI-driven, out-of-the-box experience that BPI will probably ever see.

Metaserver 4.0s underlying technology is based to a large degree on Linda, a parallel computing standard with roots in the world of supercomputing. By leveraging this technology, Metaserver is able to easily unite very different applications and enterprise systems.

In addition, Metaserver 4.0, which shipped last month, also has strong support for Java and COM (Component Object Model)-based programs, as well as excellent support for XML standards, making it easy to integrate into existing business infrastructures.

However, as is the case with many enterprise applications, these capabilities are not inexpensive. Metaserver prices start at $75,000 per server, but average implementations will cost more than $250,000.

In tests, eWeek Labs found Meta- server to be an extremely effective platform for quickly building business integration processes and applications. Its excellent modeling, design and mapping GUIs made it simple to create complex business processes and clients, as well as to manage their usage and integration. Metaserver should be able to handle almost any kind of business integration, although a less-turnkey and more-developer-oriented approach would probably be better for some very specific processes.

MME (Metaserver Modeling Environment), which is where all projects and processes are designed and created, runs under Windows NT and Windows 2000. The Server Engine and the Software Development Kit run under Windows NT and 2000, Solaris, and Linux.

MME will be the most-often-used interface in Metaserver. This tool for designing processes and configuring data mapping is among the best weve seen in this type of application, easily equaling and in some cases surpassing similar features in Microsoft Corp.s BizTalk Server.

MME has a very intuitive drag-and-drop interface, from which we could easily create complex business processes, such as converting data from a data system into a form acceptable to an enterprise application.

Almost any action or process can be added to a graphical flowchart, and every item is interactive within the chart. Elements such as business processes and metalinks (essentially, programs that carry out necessary actions) are found within each project, with mappings defining how content is transferred.

We found it easy to define characteristics and data mappings from within MME. It was also easy to test our processes for errors or incorrect actions. Once the project was complete, we could deploy it to our servers on the Metaserver Engine.

Administration of the engine is conducted through the browser-based Metaserver Management Console. From this interface, we could create and manage multiple virtual process servers, useful when defining different areas of responsibility. In addition, when using this interface, any programs used as metalinks need to be defined and activated within the necessary servers.

Metaserver enabled us to easily test our business process projects by exporting them to several custom clients provided by Metaserver, such as Java, Visual Basic, Cold Fusion, JSP (JavaServer Pages) and Active Server Pages. Using the business process testing capability, we could easily access the forms or other interactions in our project for testing.

Metaserver has built-in API support for Java, COM, Java servlets and JSP. The product also includes a wide set of pre-defined data connectors for easy integration with databases, Web services and legacy applications.