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Midrange Stuff - Hardware, Software & Services
OS/400 Edition
Volume 2, Number 13 -- April 2, 2002

SEAGULL Partners with Metaserver for BPI

by Alex Woodie

Metaserver and SEAGULL last week announced they've formed a strategic partnership, in which the companies have integrated their applications and begun reselling each other's software. The deal involves Metaserver's business-process-integration modeling tool and distributed runtime environment and SEAGULL's Transidiom, a development tool designed to generate XML, Java, or COM interfaces from OS/400 and mainframe applications. By uniting their offerings, the companies hope to make it easier to incorporate "legacy" assets into the new world of Web services.

For Metaserver, the partnership with SEAGULL provides greater visibility of mainfame and AS/400 and iSeries resources in its business-process-integration modeling tool. Metaserver previously had an agreement with Atlanta, Georgia, based Jacada--SEAGULL's primary third-party rival in the AS/400 and S/390 interface rejuvenation market--for tapping the datastreams of IBM's proprietary business systems. Metaserver chose SEAGULL over Jacada because its customers indicated a preference for SEAGULL, and because of Metaserver's perception that SEAGULL offers superior technology, company officials say.

For SEAGULL, a Dutch ISV with American headquarters in Atlanta, the Metaserver partnership will enable it to offer its customers new ways of giving their OS/400 and mainframe applications additional capabilities for interacting with other applications over the Internet. Software engineers from the two companies have developed a "metalink" for Transidiom. This metalink functions as an adapter that allows OS/400 or mainframe assets repurposed by Transidiom to be incorporated into the Metaserver business-process- integration tool and treated as any other node in the Metaserver runtime environment.

Metaserver is a New Haven, Connecticut, company that adapted a high-performance distributed supercomputing architecture conceived at Yale University and developed by Scientific Computing Associates for the Department of Defense. The architecture, called Linda, applied the theory of shared network memory to allow researchers to efficiently link the processing resources of multiple existing computers rather than loading the problem onto an expensive supercomputer.

Dr. Ashish Despande and Richard K. Schultz both worked at SCA and decided that the Linda architecture could also be applied to business computing, so they founded Metaserver, in 1996. The company also developed a visual modeling system to simplify the handling of those remotely located processing resources. Today, that modeling system is what Metaserver refers to as its business-process-integration, or BPI, modeling tool.

BPI is a relatively new term gaining traction in the enterprise application integration, enterprise resource planning, and Web application server space. BPI refers to the concept that companies are better off taking a high-level, abstract view of how certain business procedures--such as conducting a credit review or checking on inventory--work together, instead of concentrating on building the linkages from application y to application z. Metaserver's BPI is a Microsoft Windows application that allows business analysts and programmers to control how business processes interact by arranging icons on a computer screen. Metaserver's runtime component works with Windows and Unix servers.

"The whole idea of visual programming--by means of drag and drop, by creating relationships--is something that SEAGULL strongly believes in as the future of application development," says Andre den Haan, SEAGULL's vice president of product strategy. "It's actually a model that customers want to adopt…a new way to create AS/400 applications that are more service-, more message-oriented, but still use RPG and DB2."

To develop the level of integration among business processes that is largely becoming automated through tools like Metaserver's, developers historically had to do a lot of hand coding, den Haan says. "But the moment you do start to hide the business processes. They become almost unmanageable," he says. "By keeping the business process separate from how you're going to handle it on the front end, [you develop] a far superior architecture."

SEAGULL and Metaserver have successfully engaged at least one customer account to date--a state agency that wanted a Web-based, self-service front end to a mainframe taxation program. Organizations with the most to gain by adopting the Metaserver/SEAGULL offering are in the financial services, healthcare, and government sectors, den Haan says.

"If folks are just looking to connect things together without [regard for the business processes], then it's not a prospect for us," says John Hopkins, Metaserver's vice president of business development. "But if they are, that's a prospect for us. The SEAGULL piece does not have [BPI]. We feel, jointly, most companies want to link their legacy to an overall business process."

In addition to the Transidiom metalink, Metaserver offers metalink adapters for IBM's WebSphere and WebSphere MQ (formerly MQ Series), and BEA's WebLogic. This week the company is expected to announce a new partnership with an enterprise- application-integration vendor that should yield metalink adapters for ERP packages from J.D. Edwards, PeopleSoft, and Microsoft Great Plains.

Despite the availability of prebuilt connectors into popular software packages, Metaserver is not an enterprise-application-integration offering, Hopkins says. He does admit that the field is becoming increasingly crowded as established EAI vendors such as TIBCO and webMethods, and Web application server vendors such as IBM and BEA, begin offering BPI capabilities. A key differentiator is that Metaserver doesn't offer the messaging backbone that would accompany an EAI offering from TIBCO or Vitria, and that Metaserver is concentrating on being the best-of-breed BPI provider, Hopkins says.

Licenses for Metaserver's BPI and distributed runtime component start at about $140,000. The Transidiom design tool costs $10,000, while the Transidiom runtime server costs $40,000. Both companies are currently selling each other's software, and both are considering offering discounts or starter packs for customers who buy the two tools together.

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