IBM has introduced a range of new products integrating applications using the SOA model.

The products include IBM's first take on an ESB (Enterprise Services Bus), a kind of software broker that manages interactions between applications to form a business process. It also announced some new services from IBM Global Services to help customers build SOAs.

SOA refers to a design model that can help businesses integrate applications more efficiently and update them without extensive recoding. The services are programs that carry out particular tasks, such as checking a customer's credit history. They can be reused because they are built using standard interfaces, which these days are often based on the web services protocols and languages, such as SOAP and XML.

BEA Systems, Sun Microsystems and Oracle are all pitching suites of software for building SOAs. A diminishing field of pure-play vendors, such as webMethods and Cape Clear Software, also offer SOA products.

Some of IBM's announcements are updates of existing SOA products: its WebSphere Business Monitor, for example. Other products were new, and these are expected to ship in the coming month or two, IBM said. Pricing will be announced when they are released.

They include WebSphere Integration Developer, an Eclipse-based tool for writing programs that link SOA applications into a business process. IBM also unveiled two server products: WebSphere Process Server, for orchestrating a flow of business events, and the ESB.

While the web services technologies are fine for linking two applications, an ESB makes it easier to manage interactions among several applications, said Tom Rosamilia, vice president for WebSphere worldwide research and development. "If I hook up services A, B and C to the bus, I only have to make three connections and the bus then handles the transformation of all the protocols to let any service talk to any other service," he said.

Other companies have already rolled out ESBs. Cape Clear was quick to accuse IBM of "jumping on the bus". It thanked IBM for "validating" the ESB market but said its "hodge-podge" of individual SOA products, which are all part of its WebSphere brand, take too long to figure out and install.

Rosamilia acknowledged that IBM has numerous WebSphere products but said they are well integrated and serve business at different stages of SOA development, and with different levels of complexity. For companies that want to do "more advanced" brokering than is supported by IBM's ESB, for example, the company is also releasing an update to its WebSphere Message Broker this month. The broker supports a far wider range of protocols than the ESB, he said.

The new products significantly boost IBM's ability to provide the software infrastructure for building SOAs, one industry analyst said. "Predominant among these announcements is their enhanced capabilities on the business process side, as well as new capabilities for connecting business partners and enhanced modeling," said Ronald Schmelzer, a senior analyst with ZapThink.

Still, IBM maintained for a long time that an ESB was merely a design concept rather than a specific product. Customers are apparently confused by the SOA idea and now want all vendors to provide an ESB, regardless of whether they really need one, he said.

"In IBM's case, they repackaged their enterprise messaging capabilities together with some business process capabilities and standards-based interfaces and made it lightweight to craft their entry-level ESB," Schmelzer said.

While it's good that vendors are listening to customers, so many different takes on the ESB concept have made the term virtually meaningless, he said.

"At the end of the day, companies looking to implement an SOA should ask themselves what infrastructure they are missing to create loosely-coupled, composable, standards-based services, what they already have that simply needs to be repurposed, and what they need to buy to expand their capabilities around metadata," Schmelzer said.

IBM Global Services also has some new offerings. They include SOA Governance, which will help companies keep track of and measure improvements from their SOA project; and SOA Industry Teams, which will share knowledge and best practices gathered from previous engagements with companies in related vertical industries, IBM said.

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More information is atttp://www-306.ibm.com/software/solutions/soa/ .