to homepage
 Weekly emails: how to advanced search
 Glossary lookup:


> stories > technology trends

Synapse to spark web services connections

by Phil Wainewright
August 22nd, 2005

A group of vendors are bidding to standardize a core piece of web services infrastructure on open-source code.

• print  • comment
Apache-sponsored Synapse open-source project aims to build a universal web services intermediary:
  • It will be a base-level component of ESB and services management products
  • Adoption will ease interchangeability of infrastructure products
  • Independent of Java, it will be optimized for Linux
  • Enterprise developers are expected to use it for build and test
  • It enforces deployment of a services mediation layer

Glossary terms: ESB, services management, Java, runtime, lookup tool

According to its backers, the result could simplify development of enterprise web services projects, enhancing interoperability and scalability as web services adoption grows. It could also promote web services to the mass market of web developers on Linux — putting it in direct competition with Microsoft's attempts to broaden web services support with its Windows Communications Framework, codenamed Indigo.

Called Synapse, the Apache-sponsored project aims to define code for a distributed web services intermediary, to handle connectivity, transformation and routing of messages as they flow between service providers and consumers. This functionality is a core part of enterprise service bus and web services management products. If vendors decide to support the Synapse code, it will become easier for customers to migrate between platforms or to mix-and-match functionality from best-of-breed suppliers.

Four vendors have already declared their support as part of today's announcement of the project, along with WSO2, a recently formed startup led by ex-IBM web services strategist Sanjiva Weerawarana and Apache Web Services chair Davanum (Dims) Srinivas. The four are ESB vendors Sonic Software and Iona Technologies, web services fabric vendor Blue Titan Software and management and registry vendor Infravio, which has donated code from its X-Broker product to kickstart the project. Other vendors are also considering signing up.

Unlike most other open-source web services projects, Synapse will be independent of Java, with the first implementations being made available for both C and Java, WSO2's Sanjiva Weerawarana told Loosely Coupled last week. "Further down the road, I want to implement a .NET version, too," he added. Synapse is designed to be deployed alongside Axis2, a new web services-centric version of Apache's popular SOAP handler, which the WSO2 team is also heavily involved in developing.

'Indigo for Linux'
The implementation in C (the native language of Unix) is likely to be the most significant Synapse build, as it will be designed to take full advantage of the Linux environment, including extensions such as the PHP web server scripting language. "I want to make a Linux box a better web services box than Windows," said Weerawarana, adding that he hopes Synapse will ultimately become part of the default Linux distribution package. That would build web services into Linux as deeply as Microsoft aims to do with its Indigo project for Windows, although Weerawarana rejected the notion that Synapse is ‘Indigo for Linux' with a smile: "I want it to be better than ‘Indigo for Linux'."

In the short term, however, the project is expected to win attention from enterprise developers, many of whom already use Apache Axis in development projects. "I can't tell you how many times I go into meetings with high-level architects at large companies, and I find out they're all using Axis in their development sandboxes," said Dave Chappell, chief technology evangelist for Sonic Software, one of two ESB vendors backing Synapse.

Synapse will enable developers to build and test web services projects using Synapse on Axis and Linux, and then migrate the code to other Synapse-supporting platforms for deployment, said Chappell. "It's really going to be common base infrastructure that can be used by other projects," he explained. "Synapse will provide a common set of components that will be used in a variety of products in the ESB and web services management space."

Projects based on Synapse will also scale better, said Frank Martinez, Blue Titan's CTO, because the design center is around web services specifications such as SOAP, WSDL, WS-Addressing, WS-Policy, WS-Security and WS-ReliableMessaging, rather than any specific underlying environment. "There is a need for web services-based infrastructure that really supports the web services specifications as a first order as opposed to a set of APIs that are grafted onto a language-specific platform."

Many existing point-to-point implementations of web services fail to take into account the need to translate — or mediate — between different implementations as the services infrastructure expands, he explained. "There is a fallacy that every piece of infrastructure is going to support exactly the same specifications at exactly the same point of time, and that's never going to happen. You've got to have mediation."

Mediation layer
Synapse enforces a programming model that inserts a mediation layer or fabric between clients and services, said Martinez. "Mediation is necessary in these types of environments, and it's necessary in more than one place." Establishing a mediation layer removes the bottlenecks in sharing access to services that point-to-point integrations create.

Although some reports have described Synapse as an ESB, the participants have agreed to avoid using the term. "The whole way we are supporting it is avoiding the whole ESB/broker way of branding it," said Weerawarana. "We're trying to define what functions it's going to fulfil."

That positioning suits Sonic and Iona, who believe adoption of Synapse will help them drive demand for their own more full-featured ESB products. "We need to continually raise the bar as to what it means to be an ESB," said Sonic's Chappell. Iona recently launched a project with ObjectWeb to build an open-source Java ESB called Celtix, and today said that it would support Synapse within Celtix. But customers will still have requirements for its licensed Artix product, VP of marketing Larry Alston told Loosely Coupled in an email today. "It's highly likely that a division of a Global 2000 company could adopt Celtix and an open source web services mediation framework such as Synapse to address an integration problem the division is facing." Later on, he added, other divisions in the organizations may want to access the same services using "the multiple transport support or the level of enterprise QoS supported by Artix."

Infravio, meanwhile, expects to see a boost to its business, in particular its web services registry and governance products, from its association with the project. The company's R&D division in Chennai, India, is just two hours' flight from WSO2's base in Sri Lanka, and the two companies' engineers have been working closely to get the project started. "We get to be involved in one of the winning web services environments," VP of marketing Miko Matsumura told Loosely Coupled. "In terms of placing our bets for the long haul, I think this is going to be one of the leading web services runtime environments."

More on this topic


J2EE: the gloves are off
The current chair of the Apache Web Services project foresees a future without J2EE ...

ESB: time to grow up
While some of its rivals have descended into a puerile debate about who was first, Sonic Software ...


Outline proposal of Synapse at the Apache Foundation's Incubator Wiki

Apache Web Services Project
Home page of the Apache Web Services project, which is due to adopt Synapse after incubation is completed.

Blue Titan Software, Infravio, Iona Technologies, Sonic Software, WSO2


Copyright © 2002-2006, Procullux Media Ltd. All Rights Reserved.