Customers give integration suppliers mixed marks

Users are finding integration software hard to use and costly to implement, a survey claims.

Users are finding integration software hard to use and costly to implement, a survey claims.

In general, most users were happy with the way middleware suppliers enable the basic tasks of integrating data at the database and application levels. But only 8% considered the products easy to use, and 13% were content with the cost of implementing such projects.

"Respondents consistently chose the attributes relating to cost and implementation simplicity as the ones most vendors do not do well," according to the report, commissioned by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), an industry trade group based in Illinois.

The results are derived from responses from about 200 IT professionals using integration middleware at companies with at least $100m in annual revenue and at least 100 employees. About half the survey's respondents worked at companies with 500 to 10,000 employees and all types of industries were represented.

The ease-of-use concerns may reflect the fact that some integration products, particularly those based on emerging web services technologies, are still relatively new and suppliers are still refining their wares, said David Sommer, director of CompTIA's e-commerce group.

"There are also concerns about costs and, obviously, this being a new class of products, the middleware vendors are trying to recover some of their development costs. The cost structures for the products are reflecting that."

Integration projects by their nature are complex, and the complexity is compounded by the fact that many systems in use had not been designed to be linked together, said Thomas Murphy, a senior program director with analyst company Meta Group.

He added that licensing costs for some middleware integration software can be "insane".

"We have statistics showing that the cost of a CRM - ERP [customer relationship management - enterprise resource planning] integration can be as much as the original system cost to deploy. It is expensive both for the products as well as developers. Standardisation will push this down, and it has, effectively, removed some markets," said Murphy.

IBM's WebSphere Integration software was listed by 49% of respondents as their main middleware integration platform, followed by BEA Systems' WebLogic Integration (29%) and Microsoft's BizTalk Server 2002 (25%). Software from Sun Microsystems, webMethods, Sybase and Tibco Software were among those also named.

When asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their middleware supplier on a scale of one to five, with five being very satisfied and one very dissatisfied, the mean response was 3.43. Eighty-three per cent rated their vendor a four or a five, with 7% saying they were "very satisfied".

The concerns about cost and complexity should be alleviated by newer tools, which make better use of industry standards and automate certain tasks for developers, reducing the need for some of the low-level coding traditionally required for integration projects, said Jeff Henry, director of marketing for IBM's WebSphere integration products.

Other findings in the survey were less clear cut. When asked to choose from a list of attributes the things their suppliers did well, 49% said their supplier adhered to the major web services standards, 48% said their software is scalable and 45% reported getting good hardware performance.

But when asked what things their supplier did not do well, only 14% chose adherence to standards, 27% picked scalability, and 23%indicated dissatisfaction with hardware performance.

"These differences between what they do do well and what they don't do well ... I believe part of that is the newness of the products. There's some confusion as to what capabilities the middleware vendors deliver, and I think that shows there's a need for some education," CompTIA's Sommer said.

Most respondents (69%) used the software for integrating enterprise applications, followed distantly by web commerce integration, business-to-business e-commerce and content management.

More than half the users quizzed said they intended to purchase additional integration middleware, although only a third planned to do so in the next two years. The others had no time frame in mind.

The survey was conducted online in June and July for CompTIA by Survey.com. Of 645 surveys completed, 204 were qualified to take part in the entire survey. CompTIA will make public a summary of the results late next week.

James Niccolai writes for IDG News Service

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