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Enterprise Application Integration (EAI)

Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) integrates data and transactions from different parts of an organization or across organizations, typically using XML, WebEDI, or database middleware. This capability is one of the differentiation factors in the enterprise information portal (EIP) marketplace.

Vendors of e-portal solutions provide a number of means of allowing for such integration. Some (such as PortalBuilder) provide Java APIs or COM or CORBA interfaces. Some allow extensibility via the use of JSP or ASP (Changepoint is one example). Others provide custom methods of extending the e-portal to integrate with other data sources—such as gadgets (Plumtree), portlets (Oracle), and so on. The latter tend to simply provide content to the e-portal and don't provide true interoperability with organizational applications.

PortalBuilder provides a selection of ways in which to interoperate and integrate. TIBCO PortalPacks provide integration with popular applications such as SAP, PeopleSoft, Siebel, Lotus Domino, Microsoft Exchange, Verity, Interwoven, Documentum, and so on. In addition, PortalBuilder exposes Java APIs that allow developers to build functionality for integrating legacy data and custom applications. It partners with Novell's leading LDAP Directory, Inktomi Enterprise Search, iPlanet's LDAP server, Interwoven's advanced content management, and Netegrity's single-sign-on (SSO) authentication management.

IBM WebSphere allows integration with information from databases, data-warehousing tools, and content-management applications. IBM Content Manager stores, manages, and distributes all content types—text files (XML and HTML files, images, Microsoft Office electronic documents, etc.) and audio and video files. In version 7.1.2, IBM offers the EIP Client Kit for Content Manager, which includes eClient, a web interface enabling users to access documents stored in the Content Manager. It integrates several content types, possesses excellent search functionality and connectors to content repositories, and supports JSP technology.

As with PortalBuilder, WebSphere makes it possible to access various enterprise data sources via connectors, providing integration with databases (DB2, Oracle, Sybase, Informix, etc.) via JDBC, as well as with unstructured data (emails, images, spreadsheets, XML/HTML, etc.) and with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software via Business Intelligence connectors.

Technically speaking, Microsoft's portal solution uses Digital Dashboard technology, which is a framework allowing for the integration of various information sources within the same web page. SharePoint Portal Server ships with some web components such as Outlook XP (messaging and calendar), MSNBC stock news, and so on. However, Microsoft partners have developed roughly 100 third-party components enabling SharePoint Portal Server to interface with other applications. For example, the BusinessObject component facilitates access to information and to the functions of the Business Intelligence tool from the same vendor. Similarly, the Sage Enterprise e-Executive Web Parts component makes it possible to view information consolidated within the software package Sage Enterprise Suite 6.0.

Microsoft's portal solution also allows administrators and users to integrate information coming from one or several web pages. It's therefore possible to integrate data from HTML, VBScript, JScript, and XML files.

Sun ONE includes connectors to mainframe applications, ERPs, and databases. Also, it allows integration of HTML and XML to provide access to data and services.

Sybase Enterprise Portal offers a great number of gateways/connectors enabling integration with various sources of data/information, including connectors to CRM applications (Siebel, Clarify, etc.); connectors to ERPs (PeopleSoft, SAP R/3, etc.); and connectors to legacy applications such as CICS applications, databases, and specific applications using CORBA, EJB, COM, and C++ components. It also provides connectors to messaging middleware such as Java Message Service (JMS), TIBCO Rendezvous, IBM MQSeries, and so on.

Oracle9i AS provides "portlets" to provide access to data held in databases, applications, text files, HTML, XML/XSL. However it does not support other vendors' databases directly.

Viador's use of portlets is very similar to that of Oracle. Plumtree uses gadgets to retrieve data from a number of data sources. These APIs enable the portal to connect to decision-support tools, workflow tools (Filenet, Documentum, etc.), and ERPs (PeopleSoft, SAP, and so on).

The gadget architecture allows the Plumtree portal to handle fault-tolerance issues. Thanks to their distributed architecture, they can be deployed on one or several servers, called gadget servers. XML data can be exchanged with the Plumtree portal's web server via the HTTP protocol. The gadget architecture allows Plumtree to deliver a wide variety of applications and content to the portal user. According to the corporate web site, Plumtree has "established partnerships with over 60 systems integrators and 30 technology and content providers" to develop gadgets that embed "content and services from applications of every major class." Plumtree has also created a web site that developers can access to download new gadgets as partnerships grow.

Plumtree is not alone in providing these kinds of adapter libraries. Other vendors who also provide this type of facility include Viador, Hummingbird, Sybase, DataChannel, and SAP. Verity, for example, offer a similar portal infrastructure, providing "connectors" for integration at the presentation level. But Verity tends to push for deeper integration, using "gateways" that tie enterprise systems tightly together, allowing for the kind of searching that the company specializes in. Verity also offers an extensive partnership network to round off a portal solution in areas that exceed its core competencies.

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