Jacada Rounds Out Integration Suite with Client/Server Offering
May 18, 2004 Alex Woodie
Jacada today introduced WinFuse, a new integration tool for exposing as Web services the data and processes housed in Windows-based client/server applications. The company, which spent three years developing the software, says WinFuse is the first product of its kind to provide message-level integration for a large swath of the sprawling collection of legacy Windows applications in use for which there are no clean APIs or other good integration points. WinFuse is similar in design and is complementary to Jacada’s integration software for OS/400 servers and mainframes.
The word “legacy” is rarely used to describe client/server Windows applications. After all, aren’t those the type of “modern” applications companies are using to replace the host-based, green-screen OS/400 and mainframe applications that people usually associate with the term? In fact, some Windows applications more than fit the bill as “legacy,” according to Jacada officials. David Holmes, the company’s executive vice president of marketing and sales, favors the definition of legacy that says an application is legacy if it works and if integration poses a problem.
With OS/400 and mainframe applications, integration can be fairly straightforward. For years, Jacada and a host of other vendors have developed screen scrapers that intercept 5250 or 3270 protocols and then spit that data out to Windows or Web screens. More recently, vendors have augmented these screen scrapers by allowing them to output 5250 in the languages of Web services, such as Web Services Description Language (WSDL) and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).
But Windows applications are different. With client/server Windows applications, there is no standard protocol universally used, like 5250. For every development environment–PowerBuilder, Visual Basic, SmallTalk, and dozens more–there is a different underlying messaging protocol used to transfer the data, Holmes says. And therein lies the problem: designing a single, non-invasive integration tool that could work with all those different protocols (about 40, by Holmes’ count) proved a monumental development effort.
How did this happen? Didn’t client/server developers in the 1980s learn any lessons from their host-based colleagues from the ’70s? “It’s a pretty significant misnomer” that client/server applications have integration points that are easily used and readily available, Holmes says. “We’re finding the more significant applications, like those from SAP, PeopleSoft, and Siebel, do have APIs. And if you look at the traditional [EAI vendors], TIBCO and webMethods, they’ll all have adapters,” he says. “It’s the hundreds of thousands of stray cats and dogs that sit outside that environment that don’t.”
Applications written in PowerBuilder, the fourth-generation language now owned by Sybase, provide one of the best opportunities for WinFuse, Holmes says, followed closely by Microsoft‘s Visual Basic. “There is lots of demand for noninvasive access to client/server applications,” Holmes says. “If green-screen AS/400 applications have been the legacy for the last 10 years, then client/server is becoming the next legacy.”
WinFuse works much like Integrator, Jacada’s integration software for OS/400 and mainframe. From a Windows workstation, a user navigates through an application and WinFuse records it. WinFuse then generates the particular process or field as a WDSL-based Web service, which is served from an Intel-based server running Windows 2000 or Windows 2003 Server. Once WinFuse generates the WSDL, it’s up to the user to decide what to do with it.
WinFuse and its predecessors spent years in Jacada’s research and development laboratories and required two technology acquisitions by Jacada, Holmes says. “This is a very difficult thing to do,” he says. But “we’ve found the secret sauce. . . . What we’ve figured out is how to talk to client/server applications at the message level, much like with 5250 with Jacada Integrator. We’re reading field attributes.”
WINFUSE IN USE
Web services generated by WinFuse can be consumed by other applications that are enabled for Web services, where they would most likely run in the background, as a batch program, or used on an as-needed basis. They could also have a screen associated with them if used with a Web portal product, such as CleverPath, from Computer Associates (with whom Jacada has a partnership). Jacada’s first WinFuse customer, the U.S. military’s Naval Facilities Engineering Command, used the product to integrate two dissimilar applications and to eliminate redundant data entry.
Naval Facilities Engineering Command employs 14,000 civilian and military personnel and is in charge of managing the planning, construction, and maintenance of shore facilities for U.S. Navy activities around the world. To accomplish the job, Naval Facilities Engineering Command personnel must process tens of thousands of contract requests annually. Naval Facilities Engineering Command recently successfully consolidated more than 500 local applications down to 14 global systems. However, there remained several “untouchable” systems that the Navy couldn’t build integrations to. These two systems include the Windows-based Standard Procurement System (SPS)–a PowerBuilder application that standardizes and automates contract writing and is mandated for use by the Department of Defense–and a custom-built mainframe application called the Facility Information System (FIS), which provides funds management, project accounting, and contract accounting for managing construction projects.
Faced with the prospect of possibly replacing the systems, Naval Facilities Engineering Command searched for suitable integration technology. Then, last December, Naval Facilities Engineering Command caught wind of Jacada’s new WinFuse technology. In just two months, an SPS-to-FIS interface was developed using WinFuse and Integrator (for the mainframe application), and it was deployed to a pilot site within four months. The integration, which is expected to provide a six-month return on investment, is scheduled to go live this week, and Naval Facilities Engineering Command is already planning to use WinFuse with its Web applications. “For over a year, we had been searching for a low-cost, low-risk solution and found Jacada had a compelling answer for all our disparate systems–mainframe, Web, and Windows,” says Commander Scott Smith, Naval Facilities Engineering Command’s assistant CIO.
WinFuse is available now, with typical implementation projects starting near $100,000, Holmes says. Along with WinFuse, Jacada today announced a new services offering called Jacada Fusion, which combines WinFuse and Integrator software and consulting services from Jacada. For more information, go to www.jacada.com.