Integration solutions: Mule ESB vs. Apache Camel

Properly executed application integration projects require operational foresight, strategic thinking, and due diligence – lots of due diligence. Even then, it can be difficult to determine which integration offering best suits your business needs. Many vendors are quick to promise a flexible and scalable solution, yet underperform once deployed in your environment. One of the most difficult tasks can be to fully understand how competing solutions stack up against one another. To help overcome this challenge, this article compares two popular integration solutions, Mule as an ESB and Apache Camel.

Similarities among Mule ESB and Apache Camel

First and foremost, these two products share several important properties, which makes them both successful in basic integration projects:

  • Open-source. Mule and Camel are both open-source products that abide global standards and provide easily available source code.
  • Lightweight. These solutions are lightweight – download sizes do not exceed 80MB – and both are known for their small footprint and interoperability with other open source technologies and development tools.
  • Active communities. An active online community of developers is present in both products; these communities provide feedback, documentation, and tutorials.

These shared qualities provide a solid foundation for both solutions; however, their approach to integration differs, and in turn defines their strength as an enterprise solution.


The Comparison: Mule ESB v. Apache Camel

While connecting two simple applications may require little more than basic point-to-point integration, today’s enterprise requires an integration solution that is flexible, easy to use, and scalable for future growth. Below we compare both solutions based on these criteria:


Flexibility – Integration Platform vs. Mediation framework + Services

Anypoint Platform, which contains Mule as an ESB, is a complete integration platform, and as such has both a service container and a mediation framework as part of the offering. This enables Mule as an ESB to address non-functional requirements such as reliability, high availability, scalability, and enterprise security in addition to expected functional requirements. If a service container is beyond the scope of your project, Mule as an ESB can be scaled down and used as an embedded integration framework. This flexibility allows businesses to tailor Anypoint Platform to specific integration projects.

Camel, by itself, is a mediation framework and cannot provide many of the essential non-functional requirements of an integration solution. To overcome this obstacle, integration providers often pair Camel with Apache ServiceMix or other 3rd party service containers. This do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to creating a full integration platform adds additional work for developers and increases the risk of creating a brittle platform.

A full-service container is fundamental to any solution; it creates a more flexible integration by decoupling non-functional requirements (i.e., manageability, reliability, availability) from the application code. Mule provides this flexibility out-of-the-box, while Camel requires developers to piecemeal an integration solution on their own – and if they’re not careful, Camel can easily turn into a heavy, monolithic platform in the process.


Easy to learn – Lean Framework vs. Visual environment

Camel’s lean framework makes it easy to learn for programmers. Camel also accommodates different Domain Specific Languages (DSLs), allowing programmers to work in whichever language they find most confortable. Camel also closes the gap between modeling and implementation by adhering to Enterprise Integration Patterns (EIPs) – allowing programmers to split integration problems into smaller pieces that are more easily understood.

Mule is also easy to learn, and provides both multiple DSLs while adhering to EIPs. Additionally, Mule’s visual development environment makes historically difficult tasks, such as data mapping, easy to learn by providing drag-and-drop functionality. Both companies offer enterprise IT a highly usable solution that makes larger integration projects more manageable. This becomes increasingly important as organizations scale, and they need to hire additional technical resources.


Graphical interface – Anypoint Studio vs. Camel + Fuse IDE

Mule provides an intuitive visual development environment, Anypoint Studio. This Eclipse-based environment provides drag-and-drop functionality, and allows developers to focus on high-level concepts rather than technical details. Anypoint Studio is easy to learn and makes developers more productive, more quickly. With the Anypoint Studio graphical design environment, even non-technical resources can perform historically difficult tasks

Camel, however, does not have a visual development environment and without additional tools is only efficient for a limited audience. As integration points grow, the Camel framework becomes less manageable most enterprises will choose to add a visual development environment to Camel.

For years, a popular choice has been to incorporate Fuse IDE, a commercial graphical interface tool. However, adding 3rd party tools to Camel has drawbacks. Most notably, these tools can limit or break existing functionality within Camel. Using Fuse IDE as an example, this tool requires developers to forgo use of the popular Java DSL. In addition to knowingly, or unknowingly, breaking pieces of Camel, 3rd party commercial tools can provide an uncertain future. FuseSource, the creators of Fuse IDE, was recently acquired by Red Hat; this company can easily fold Fuse IDE into another commercial product, and leave companies that invested in this product at a loss.

Instead of requiring companies to search for, often inconsistent, 3rd party tools, Mule removes extra work by aligning components that are commonly used together. Indicative of this approach, Mule incorporates a visual development environment for its ability to tie together both the developer and operational experience and provide a clean deployment model.


Get started & scale – Pre-built connectivity vs. DIY connectors

Powered by MuleSoft’s Anypoint technology, Mule has instant API connectivity to hundreds of the most popular on-premises and cloud-based applications and services. These connectors also integrate proprietary interfaces such as SAP, TIBCO Rendezvous, Oracle Siebel CRM, PayPal or IBM’s CICS Transaction Gateway. Mule also provides a DevKit that allows developers use Java annotations to quickly build Mule extensions that integrate directly with Anypoint Studio. This pre-built connectivity and development kit save hours of valuable time, and provides organizations the tools they need to deploy integrations in days or weeks, not months.

Camel has tens of transports, not hundreds – which means that your enterprise is more likely to run into unsupported applications sooner rather than later. Camel also lacks a defined SDK and companies are left to use 3rd party kits or forced to wait for a commercial provider to add support for their API or connector. Unlike Mule, Camel does not provide packaged applications integration, and enterprises are required to undertake these projects in-house.

Pre-built connectivity is critical for enterprises that value a quick time to market. Removing much of the tedious development work traditionally associated with integration, Mule provides a near plug-and-play environment that makes adding new applications to the enterprise architecture a breeze.

A strategic partnership with Mule

While both Mule and Camel offer lightweight solutions, each has taken a distinct approach to integration. Mule ESB is a ready-to-use platform with strategically aligned components, and is best suited for companies that require an agile ESB with a quick time-to-market. On the other hand, Camel chose to provide a skeleton framework, placing the technical burden on the enterprise to build-out a functional platform. This DIY approach may appeal to a developer’s desire to build and tinker, but routinely causes unexpected delays, loss of functionality, and pivots attention away from core business needs.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the approach to expression languages in the two solutions. Mule defines a preferred expression language, while still enabling developers to use a wide list of others. This intended path removes the time and research required to determine which expression language will work best – while still providing alternatives. However, Camel’s ‘hands-off’ approach simply offers the ability to use a number of expression languages, but makes no effort to provide guidance or strategic foresight.

From day 1, Mule as an ESB was created with the enterprise in mind. It includes advanced tools to get you started quickly and is backed by MuleSoft’s award-winning professional services and support teams. These teams can help evaluate your key integration challenges and objectives, and develop an integrated architecture to help you succeed in the coming years.

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