Microsoft pitches ESB alternative

Microsoft pitches ESB alternative

ESB (enterprise service bus) technology as a category of its own has been gaining increasing numbers of followers lately. Microsoft, however, isn't one of them, according to a position paper that the company recently published.

Instead, the software giant is positioning its BizTalk Server integration and process server and its planned Indigo Web services technology as its solution in the ESB space, the paper states. Microsoft doesn't believe ESB is a stand-alone product category but "customers looking to purchase an ESB will find that Microsoft offers a significant superset of ESB functionality," the company said.

An ESB does not meet all the needs of users, said Scott Woodgate, group product manager in the Connected Systems Division at Microsoft and a co-author of the position paper.

"We don't believe that customers will benefit significantly from the ESB products," Woodgate said in an interview on Wednesday afternoon.

Usually viewed as a mechanism to provide Web services-based application integration in SOA environments, companies such as Sonic Software, Cape Clear Software, and, as of early this month, BEA Systems, are offering ESB. But Microsoft characterizes an ESB as ambiguous.

"The recent buzz around ESB is rivaled only by the ambiguity by which the term is defined," Microsoft states in the paper.

BizTalk Server 2004 enables decoupled integration with a range of systems, including MQSeries, SAP systems, and Web services, according to Microsoft. "BizTalk Server provides for all the capabilities of traditional ESBs," Microsoft said in its paper. Business activity monitoring and other related functions also are provided.

Indigo, which is now officially being called the WCF (Windows Communication Foundation), is Microsoft's next-generation Web services technology; it offers a framework for secure, reliable and interoperable software based on industry standards, Microsoft said.

"I think the key thing from a Microsoft perspective is that customers are looking to integrate applications inside their enterprises, customers are looking for vendors to provide solutions all the way across the stack," Woodgate said. Customers want business process infrastructure, connection of applications and business activity monitoring, but an ESB only includes the messaging infrastructure, Woodgate said.

Although Microsoft's combination of products amounts to a Windows-centric solution, Woodgate said WCF will provide interoperability across all platforms. BizTalk Server, he added, offers adapters to link to non-Microsoft environments.

"While a growing number of ESBs are supporting Web services standards in order to remain competitive, WCF provides the broadest support for the WS-* (spoken as ws-star) specifications," according to Microsoft in its position paper. These specifications include SOAP, WSDL, WS-Addressing, WS-Security and other related specifications. WCF, which includes a framework for building Web services, will debut in 2006 in the Windows Vista operating system. It also will be available for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

The ESB term has "permeated the IT vernacular of many organizations looking for a new 'magic bullet' to the ongoing challenge of connecting systems," Microsoft said.

Although there is no industry-standard definition of an ESB, general characteristics include brokered communication, address indirection and intelligent routing, and basic Web services support, according to Microsoft. Some ESB vendors also offer message transformation, validation, logging, and auditing.

Microsoft with WCF will offer a superior alternative to an ESB, one analyst said.

"Fundamentally, what Microsoft is putting together is much better than an ESB," said Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst at ZapThink, in an e-mail response to questions. "Basically, WCF is a quantum leap above ESB -- it's essentially a framework for building a whole range of different tools, including ESBs. So yes, the combination of WCF and BizTalk does much of what today's ESBs do, but that undersells the power of Microsoft's vision and technology, especially as they move to the Vista wave."

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