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Delivering Value-Add without the Value-Added Network

Stefan Reid from Forrester blogs today about Axway's intent to acquire Vordel. Stefan has a deep background with companies such as Software AG and SAP, and at Forrester has been leading thinking on Cloud integration brokers.

Stefan perceptively links the Vordel-Axway move into the broader move of B2B from private networks to the Internet. He writes that:
Traditional B2B integration over private networks is more and more replaced with B2B connectivity and cloud based integration over the internet.
http://blogs.forrester.com/stefan_ried/12-11-08-axway_aquires_vordel_why_does_the_acquisition_of_security_experts_by_integration_vendors_make_sense
This has deep resonance for me. In 1996, I joined an EDI Value-Added Network (VAN) provider in Ireland called Eirtrade. I was charged with enabling their customers to leverage the Internet for B2B transactions. I was recently out of college, so I was excited to use my programming knowledge in action.

What makes a 'Value-Added' Network different than any other network?

One of the first questions I asked at the VAN was "What makes a 'Value-Added' Network different than any other network?" (of course, at college I'd learned about Token Ring networks, etc). The answer was that the "Value-Added" part included: transformation, identity, privacy, and reliability. The VAN would provide message-transformation capabilities. It also guaranteed the identity of clients. In addition, the VAN was a closed-off network, which meant that sensitive data (e.g. medical test results) were protected. Finally, if a recipient was not available, the message could be resent or polled later.

Recreating the "Value-Added" aspect of the VAN on the Internet

The Internet was just the "Network", without the "Value-Added" part. Lacking security, privacy, or reliability. It quickly became apparent that my task was to recreate the "Value-Added" aspect of the VAN, except on the Internet. So this meant layering on identity, transformation, privacy, and reliability to the Internet-based B2B traffic.

The other 80%

The other thing which I quickly realized is that customers did not want to simply stop using the VAN. The VAN "just worked", and even if it was a bit expensive, it still enabled business. The real pain-point was to enable the "other 80%" of their customers and suppliers who, for one reason or another (usually cost), did not use the VAN. This was where the Internet came in. At the time (late 90s), companies setting up fast Internet connections would naturally think "Why not use this for our business transactions too?". The challenge was to connect these other 80% of clients to the network.

Trust

On the Internet, famously "nobody knows you're a dog". This is not a good basis for B2B commerce. When using the Internet for B2B, the challenge was to layer on Identity. In the late 90s, this means digital certificates. Now, we have OAuth 2.0 and OpenID Connect.

Putting it all together

After implementing some B2B-over-Internet projects with Eirtrade, putting together solutions for identity and message transformation, implementing the "Value Added" benefits missing from the Internet, I naturally thought "If there was a product which just did this, I would use it". This was the genesis of Vordel. Increasingly it was clear that B2B traffic would make use of Web technologies (HTTP(S), XML) on the Internet, and therefore a product was required to apply all of the "Value-Add" to this B2B-over-Internet traffic, to fill in all the "Value-Add" which is provided by a traditional VAN.

Vordel's products, from Day 1, have been to enable B2B traffic on the Internet. Starting with XML, then SOAP came along, and REST APIs. And now, Cloud-based. This is a perfect fit with Axway, with its heritage in Managed File Transfer (widely used for B2B) and B2B platforms. It's exciting times, and I'll be following Stefan's ongoing research closely. 

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Mark O'Neill

Mark O'Neill is VP Innovation at Axway - API and Identity. Previously he was CTO and co-founder at Vordel, which was acquired by Axway. A regular speaker at industry conferences and a contributor to SOA World Magazine and Cloud Computing Journal, Mark holds a degree in mathematics and psychology from Trinity College Dublin and graduate qualifications in neural network programming from Oxford University.