Standards debate muddies 'open' waters

A host of products emerging from the world of open source, XML and Web services are challenging traditional notions of open...

A host of products emerging from the world of open source, XML and Web services are challenging traditional notions of open solutions.

IBM, Apple Computer, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and Nokia are passionate about their "open" mantra in the quest to address interoperability concerns. But the strategy itself is under threat of collapsing under its own weight.

While many suppliers ascribe to all the right internet-based open standards, layers of proprietary technology that limit a company's ability to build a genuinely open infrastructure can lurk beneath the surface.

For example, companies can still find themselves locked into certain components of legacy ERP systems, despite the proliferation of Web services, said Ismael Ghalimi, chief strategy officer at Intalio and chairman of business process management initiative

Part of the solution lies with a number of standards-making bodies that rose to prominence over the past two years. "I hope that WSI and Liberty Alliance would work together and really come up with a stable stack for Web services," Ghalimi said.

"There are a lot of people motivated by standards. But the choices of proprietary and open standards just isn't what it used to be," said John Rymer, a senior analyst at Giga Information Group.

"We used to talk about open systems compared to very proprietary systems like the AS/400 where you could only get it from one vendor. It just isn't the same type of discussion any more."

IDC analyst Al Gillen said, "Open is one of those convenient marketing terms. People bend it to meet their needs."

Yet the march towards a convergence of technologies across IT infrastructures continues unabated. Linux, XML, Apache, MySQL and PHP and other open-source technologies are "huge enablers of convergence", said Red Hat chief technology officer Michael Tiemann.

Ten years ago, most corporate infrastructures were fragmented environments made up of jagged hardware and software, unless they bought everything from a single supplier.

"When the people are invested with the power to control their own destiny, they take an interest," Tiemann said, reflecting the aspirations of the Linux community at large.

Yet non-Linux suppliers are also trying to glue together dozens of fragmented pieces. This is particularly true among the J2EE-based application server companies, and is increasingly evident in the enterprise applications arena.

"Users want a more converged software infrastructure that they can then build out to meet their specific needs," said Scott Hebner, IBM's director of marketing for WebSphere.

"Lots of people are now building networked-based applications based on things like Java, Apache, and Web services, which are helping converge the differences of all the underlying hardware and operating systems."

IBM has converged its portal server, tools and integration products together with WebSphere, turning it from an applications server into more of a platform environment.

"We built all the components of the Websphere software platform out of converged portals and integration parts and so it looks more now like a converged platform," Hebner said. "Websphere is open as a piece of infrastructure where partners can just plug-and-play their capabilities."

Enterprise applications suppliers SAP (with Netweaver) and Oracle (with its Business Flow Accelerators) are pushing to open their architectures with support for both J2EE and .Net development environments.

PeopleSoft boosted its integration capabilities with its AppConnect pre-integrated portal, integration and warehouse solutions. But Yankee Group analyst Jon Derome claimed AppConnect failed to deliver the Java development and run-time advantages of the SAP and Oracle offerings.

On the middleware side, Derome said Vitria's process management capabilities surpassed its competitors. Vitria unveiled BusinessWare 4, the next generation of its business process management technology, in October.

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