Startups aim to move integration to network layer

By Michael Vizard, InfoWorld |  Software

THE NATURE OF application and data integration is changing. The early whisperings of EAI's (enterprise application integration's) demise are proving premature, and the technology is now finding a few emerging options.

Among EAI's new brethren are companies focused on IDI (Internet data integration) and EBI (e-business integration). The latest category emerged this week when two startup companies that hope to create application integration frameworks at the network level made their case at the PC Forum conference in Phoenix.

KnowNow, based in Menlo Park, Calif., and OpenDesign, of Bellevue, Wash., both plan to roll out ambitious efforts aimed as moving responsibility for integrating applications away from the application layer in favor of network layers.

According to executives at both companies, this software router approach makes more sense because it allows them to ascertain what type of data is coming into the enterprise at the edge of the network, and then provide the appropriate response.

Open Design's acting CEO, Edward Jung, who prior to founding Open Design was one of the lead developers of Microsoft's .NET, said that his company's platform will be able to abstract the logic in any given application in the enterprise. The Open Design platform can then represent that application to another application at the edge of the network. In contrast, most enterprise application integration tools today rely on logic running on the same server as the application they need to integrate.

Jung, who counts former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold among his backers, said the company expects to roll out its first pilot projects later this year.

Meanwhile, KnowNow is taking a slightly different approach in that its software sits at the edge of the network and examines network traffic. Based on that analysis, its platform -- currently in beta -- can then prioritize that traffic toward the specific server where a given application resides.

Both companies are examples of an emerging school of thought that sees the network layer as the most efficient place to integrate applications.

"We're seeing that people are extremely frustrated about integration at the application layer," said Alan Rust, director of integration solutions at Tanning Technology, a Denver-based consulting firm that specializes in integration solutions.

Integrating at the network layer produces results more quickly than doing so at the applications, Rust continued.

But the network layer adds another level of complexity, and companies need to understand what they want to accomplish beforehand, as well know the specific data integration points they are targeting, cautioned Rust's colleague, Dominic Sagar, a solutions lead for integration strategies at Tanning.

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