April 18, 2001, 10:38 AM — FOR MANY COMPANIES, the Internet is simply not a safe place to do business. Data can be corrupted and packets can get dropped, both potentially crippling events for critical business-to-business operations such as procurement and fulfillment. A misplaced order message can mean the difference between satisfying and losing a customer.
A recent Gartner study revealed that the Internet "lacks the underpinnings" for dependable b-to-b e-commerce, largely because the quality of service online is substandard.
But a new breed of service provider is working to "harden" the Internet with routers and software, thereby turning the Web into a more reliable medium for b-to-b transactions.
"The flow of information within a community of businesses must have the same characteristics that exist within the IT environments of any one of those companies," says Kenner Stross, CTO at TransactPlus, an Emeryville, Calif.-based transaction delivery company.
The TransactPlus service works as middleware: Central routers reside between clients, who connect to the service via software adapters each time they send a request. The routers use specially designed transaction monitoring software to guarantee that sent data reaches its destination. Undeliverable messages are queued until the receiving party's network is able to accept them.
J.P. Morgan Chase, the New York financial company, is currently putting the TransactPlus service through its paces. Because J.P. Morgan Chase handles huge volumes of sensitive financial transactions daily, it needs an extremely reliable and secure means of sending data across the public Internet.
"Our business is all about moving information. It's worth protecting people's balances, confirmations of trades, and order executions," says Mike Reilly, managing director of J.P. Morgan Chase's business development wing, LabMorgan.
Before implementing the TransactPlus service, J.P. Morgan Chase used custom, point-to-point links to connect its offices and those of its business partners. Code had to be hand-written at each end of the connection. According to Reilly, those arrangements were not only unreliable but also expensive, difficult to implement, and nonreusable. "You weren't building a network. You were just building point-to-point links," Reilly explains.
Slam Dunk Networks, a Redwood City, Calif.-based transaction delivery company, also uses technology to guarantee that messages go where they're supposed to. When an enterprise application sends a request across the Internet, the Slam Dunk software creates a duplicate copy of the data, encrypts both copies, and sends them along separate paths. Both requests are then stored on Slam Dunk's networks for additional reliability.