MindTouch announced a new tool for integrating applications this week called Business Application Integration.
This may surprise you if you're familiar with MindTouch's other products, which tend toward dashboard and reporting functions-not integration. MindTouch first came on the scene with an open source wiki, but has since moved on to make a name for itself as a sort of open source alternative to SharePoint. Given that history, MindTouch smartly partnered with another open source firm, SnapLogic, to provide the data integration layer, which uses SnapLogic's DataFlow Server technology.
SnapLogic's DataFlow Server handles the data integration level and its "components can read, write and transform data from any location and allow databases, files, Web and SAAS data to be shared and leveraged by existing apps," according to eWEEK.
There are a couple of interesting things about this announcement. First, it's one of several announcements designed to boost MindTouch's competitiveness with SharePoint - or at least that's the feeling I got after reading CMS Wire's article about the announcement. The article notes that a lot depends upon how much easier application integration will be in SharePoint 2010 as compared to 2007.
The vice president of sales for MindTouch has written a rather lengthy comparison of SharePoint 2010 and MindTouch 2009 on his blog. But he also offered this short synopsis:
"SharePoint 2010 is more business user friendly and offers much more out of the box to extend the platform. MindTouch 2009 is much less expensive, more flexible and easier to build applications and extend than Sharepoint, but you need to be a developer or have some light programming skills."
It's actually worth a read (sometimes, these things aren't) because he's surprisingly candid about where MindTouch falls short and SharePoint excels. In November, MindTouch launched a cloud offering designed to allow business users to pull data from CRM and ERP. MindTouch CEO Aaron Fulkerson said outright that was about competing with SharePoint and Google Apps, according to eWEEK.
The second point that's intriguing about this announcement is the positioning and the price. To entice users, the company is offering 50 user licenses for $4,995 through Dec. 31, at which time the price goes up to $9,995.
MindTouch is touting this as an EAI solution, bragging on the Web site that, "This solution, offered at a sub - $5,000 price point, brings all of the benefits of an traditional EAI solution, without any of the cost, development or maintenance headaches."
This caused eWEEK to draw comparisons between MindTouch's solution and big-enterprise EAI, noting that more traditional EAI costs "thousands to millions of dollars for implementations of their software across large businesses."
Now, I can be a bit obtuse about these things sometimes, and to be perfectly honest, I was all set to post about what a great deal this was, but my editor wasn't buying it. I hate it when people are more skeptical than me, so I did a bit more digging, sent a few e-mails, and posted about it on Twitter. "Is this really a fair comparison?" I asked.
Here's what I gathered from my digging: It seems that to compare MindTouch's new offering to established EAI solutions-both in terms of pricing and functionality - is questionable marketing at best and ... no offense ... but ridiculous, at worst.
Anne Thomas Manes of the Burton Group responded first, via Twitter:
"SnapLogic supports simple EAI scenarios. Easy to use, but limited in capability. It presumes open APIs exist in all apps.
David Linthicum, a consultant who specializes in integration, SOA and now cloud, also e-mailed this response:
"It is an unfair comparison. Most of the work will be defining the end points, creating the connections, and then figuring out how the information needs to flow from one system to another. Moreover, there is not one type of EAI technology. The functionality varies greatly from product to product. A lot depends on what you get for $5,000."
He also confirmed another issue I'd wondered about: Prices for EAI are typically based on the number of connections, not the number of users which, he added, is an inconsequential number.
That said, it seems this is more a bad call in terms of positioning rather than simply a bad idea. Social networking consultant Sameer Patel and Alex Williams of ReadWrite Enterprise both offered high praise and see this as a very Enterprise 2.0 offering.
Patel suggests MindTouch's BAI is a separate market-called, appropriately enough, business application integration. The integration from these tools is "focused on lighter weight integration and often at the presentation layer," and he adds that even traditional EAI player Tibco plans to offer a lightweight approach with the release of Tibbr.
So this probably isn't so much an open source alternative to robust EAI as an interface-level option for application integration. Still, if you're a small or mid-sized organization and need to give business users access to data from Web and on-premise applications from one interface-then lightweight may be good enough, particularly at that price point.