ESB Persists As Application Integration Tool

The tried-and-true enterprise service bus--long the foundation of now-dated service oriented architecture deployments--is back in style thanks to the increasing need to integrate disparate applications. The secret to ESB's future success, some say, is a close tie to API management tools.

By John Moore
Wed, May 15, 2013

CIO — A technology with a knack for reinvention, the enterprise service bus (ESB) has been toiling away in IT shops, largely unnoticed, for about a decade.

ESB products swept onto the scene as the latest generation of enterprise application integration technology and a replacement for older message-oriented middleware. The ESB's initial role, going back to the early 2000s, was to translate different data formats, let applications communicate with each another through a messaging layer and make sure the messages passed among applications reach the intended target. By 2005, ESBs had become the foundation for service-oriented architecture (SOA) deployments. The technology took on the task of coordinating Web services.

Over the years, though, SOA has lost some of its appeal as a term of art. "Services" of late have been recast as application programming interfaces, and API management tools have emerged as a product category. In April, CA Technologies inked a definitive agreement to purchase Layer 7 Technologies, an API management vendor, underscoring the growing interest in the field. The rise of cloud computing, meanwhile, has generated new types of integration challenges and technology remedies.

Against that backdrop, ESB has entered yet another transitional phase. Jason Bloomberg, president of ZapThink, a Dovel Technologies company, says there's a lot of noise in the market for and against ESBs. ZapThink, based in McLean, Va., offers training in certification in SOA and cloud computing.

"It's a little hard to cut through and find out what's really going on," Bloomberg says. "Customers are generally confused about the whole thing."

ESB vendors, however, contend that their products will continue to have a role in both traditional integration and as a core component of new applications. Along the way, the technology must navigate overlapping API management capabilities and cultivate niches such as Software-as-a-Service integration.

ESBs at Work: Integrating Disparate Systems

Enterprise customers, for their part, continue to carry on with ESB. That group includes some recent adopters such as NCR Corp. The company deployed MuleSoft ESB software about 18 months ago, notes Eli Rosner, vice president of global software engineering at NCR.

Rosner says ESB offers the ability to handle complex integration while providing speedier time to market. The technology lets developers integrate applications quickly, as it offers built-in connectivity and shields them from having to deal with individual connectors. "ESB as an integration engine is very important to us," Rosner says.

ESB helps NCR bring together three key domains: The company's data center, a customer's data center and the public cloud. The integration technology can unite a SaaS solution hosted in an NCR facility with an enterprise resource planning system at a customer's location and link both into public cloud technology, Rosner explains.

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