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Adding Flexibility To Web-Services Network

Grand Central will provide synchronous connections in addition to asynchronous connections with its Web-management services.

Grand Central, which manages Web services between companies, next week will unveil enhancements that make its subscription service more flexible. The 2-year-old company will provide synchronous connections, a straightforward request-reply communication between applications, in addition to asynchronous connections, which is the ability to store and forward messages among many applications. The synchronous option is valuable to companies looking to connect, for example, an application for checking order status with a customer's portal, says Craig Donato, president and CEO.

Grand Central also is making it easier for businesses to integrate with its service, which acts as a message bus over the Internet, routing messages between business applications while providing transaction security, management, and monitoring. For example, a company could use BEA Systems' WebLogic Workshop or IBM WebSphere Studio to build a Simple Object Access Protocol interface for a Java application running on either vendor's application server. SOAP is the core communication mechanism within the emerging Web-services standards. Along with the SOAP interface, the tools build a Web Services Description Language file that computer systems must read in order to communicate with other systems. To integrate an application with Grand Central's service, a developer would only have to include in the WSDL file Grand Central's URL for receiving all requests and replies, Donato says. URLs are commonly used to call up Web pages in a browser. Grand Central's service starts at $150,000 a year for connecting up to 50 companies.

Grand Central, which recently raised $23 million in a second round of funding, is one of many small vendors looking to grow into larger businesses if emerging Web-services standards become the core technology for communications between business applications over the Internet. Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer says Grand Central's business model fits the current trend of outsourcing computer systems to save money that can be better spent on companies'core businesses. While other companies provide network services like Grand Central's through value-added networks, Grand Central is unique in its focus on Web services. A Grand Central customer commonly exposes an application behind the firewall through SOAP, and the vendor handles all communications with partners irrespective of how their applications are exposed.

But it remains to be seen whether Grand Central can thrive as companies offering value-added networks add Web-service support. "Grand Central seems to be one of the front-runners (in Web services)," Plummer says. "But they'll feel pressure eventually from the VAN vendors." However, the early support of new Web-services tools will make Grand Central more attractive to companies using those tools to build business-to-business applications.

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