Enterprise application integration, a software sector once seen as a potential hot spot, is faltering, turning "pure-play" EAI vendors into the walking wounded.

In recent weeks, three EAI vendors -- Tibco ( TIBX), webMethods ( WEBM) and SeeBeyond Technology ( SBYN) -- warned of missed quarters; a fourth, Vitria ( VITR), is facing delisting from the Nasdaq; and a fifth, Mercator ( MCTR), is losing money as a result of weak sales and an expensive fight to defeat a hostile takeover.

What's more, these companies have been losing senior staff to an aggressive new player in the integration space -- BEA Systems ( BEAS), whose core application server business is in danger of becoming commoditized.

Since BEA began moving into the EAI space last year, more than 90 staffers from pure-play companies, including top technology officers, engineering vice presidents and senior marketers, have joined the San Jose, Calif., company, TheStreet.com has learned.

To be sure, all technology companies churn through staff, and some of the former pure-play staffers joined BEA after being laid off. And there's not much the EAI companies (or anyone else) can do to end the slump in IT spending or avert a war.

Nevertheless, there is money to be made in the EAI space. Nearly every survey of IT wish lists ranks integration as a top priority.

But that isn't translating to higher sales for the companies that specialize in it. In the first quarter of 2002, the combined revenue of the five pure-play companies was $221.85 million. A year later, that had slipped by 11.7% to $195.96 million.

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