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The Integration Challenge

Developing an SOA-Based integration solution using Web Services

Similarly, integration approaches based on application servers suffer from development and deployment difficulties inherent in the three-tier architecture (as does their precursor, the TP monitor). These difficulties include a high degree of hand coding for integration logic, a less flexible (i.e., more tightly coupled) request/response style messaging design center, and large runtime deployment footprint (often with associated additional hardware cost).

Recent experience with Web services and SOA-based solutions shows that a better answer is available. Instead of attempting to deal directly with the complexity of multiple incompatible applications on multiple computers through a single type of product such as an EAI broker or application server, it is now possible to add a layer of abstraction that is open and standards based, and through its neutral architecture is easy to integrate with virtually any new or existing environment.

SOA-Based Integration
The leading approach for using Web services in integration solutions is SOA. Using Web services in the context of an SOA provides a strategic and systematic method to solving integration and interoperability problems.

SOA tends to work best for organizations that are trying to maximize the long-term results of an integration architecture by heavily investing in one for strategic advantage. It addresses the challenge of making different pieces of an enterprise work together and making corporate infrastructure less complex - with fewer platforms and more standardization.

SOA is by definition technology independent, since it is an architecture or style of design, not a product. An SOA can be (and historically has been) implemented using a variety of technologies, including CORBA and message queuing systems. Web services provide the best modern technology platform for implementing an SOA.

Unlike a traditional "rip and replace approach" where legacy environments are replaced wholesale with lower cost alternatives, SOA fulfills the need to utilize functionality in existing applications to support innovation. SOA meets this requirement by encapsulating functionality and exposing it through standard Web services interfaces. The resulting services can then be easily consumed by new applications, and replaced incrementally.

Figure 1 illustrates the way in which application server technology (including .NET and J2EE servers) can be enabled using Web services to integrate with a variety of back-end systems. CORBA systems can also be viewed as an instance of application server technology. Although they are not three-tier structured the way J2EE and .NET servers are, sometimes CORBA-based systems are used to provide the equivalent features and functions for C++ (and Java) applications.

Many modern application server environments, including CORBA-based products, also include a form of asynchronous messaging that can be service enabled as well. Technologies in this category, broadly including transaction processing monitors, also run on mainframes.

Figure 2 illustrates that Web service interfaces are available for direct access to database management systems, either by transforming SQL Schema defined tables directly to XML equivalents, or by providing a wrapper to invoke stored procedures.

Figure 3 illustrates how Web service interfaces are applied to message queuing systems, whether used as plain message transports, or in the context of enterprise application integration (EAI), or business to business (B2B) broker architectures.

Figure 4 illustrates the way in which enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and other enterprise application packages are enabled using Web services interfaces. More and more of these systems are becoming Web service-enabled over time, but today the industry continues to see a mixture of Web service-enabled adapters and Web service interfaces that access packaged application functionality directly.

Figure 5 illustrates how basic integration flows can be defined once existing (and new) software assets are Web service-enabled. The flows can include three-tier application architectures (i.e., application servers and TP monitors), message queue architectures (including hub-and-spoke EAI systems), direct database access, and packaged application adapters.

Integrating applications such as this within the context of an SOA involves defining the basic Web services interoperability layer, as well as the enterprise quality of service layer, to bridge features and functions such as security, reliability, and transactions used in current applications. Over time this approach also involves the ability to define automated business process execution flows across Web services once the SOA is in place.

Applying SOA with Web Services for Integration: The ESB
While SOA and Web services technologies can be used to solve a broad range of IT problems (especially when used to quickly and easily join the disparate systems that comprise the typical enterprise IT infrastructure), enterprises typically require additional infrastructure beyond the basic interoperability provided by WSDL and SOAP. Web services-based interoperability solutions can easily be extended for use in enterprise integration solutions that lower cost and increase IT value by using an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) to connect service-enabled endpoints.

ESBs support the development and deployment of a fabric of services that enables system interoperability and rapid application integration in an SOA while preserving the mission-critical features and functions on which IT solutions depend. ESBs provide implementations of the higher-level Web services specifications, such as security, transactions, metadata management, and reliability.

ESB technology addresses some of the most common integration challenges that IT organizations face today: How should the business anad technical rules for satisfying information requests and data transformation be defined and applied while simultaneously reconciling the competing goals of speed, interoperability, portability, and flexibility? How can we implement an architecturally neutral solution to connect newly developed services to services defined for a myriad of existing applications and software systems? How can we really handle the mixture of two-tier, three-tier, hub-and-spoke, and other IT architectures in a common way?

The ESB is the Web services-based infrastructure designed for IT organizations with multiple generations of business applications, technologies, and architectures. ESBs combine features from several previous types of middleware into one package to make IT assets work together, thus forming the basis of an agile SOA integration solution.

More Stories By Eric Newcomer

Eric Newcomer is an Integration Architect in the CTO department at at Credit Suisse. Previously he was Chief Technology Officer at IONA and has been involved with computers since 1975 and professionally since 1978, primarily in the area of online tranasction processing. He was also involved in Web services from the beginning, contributing to several specifications and related industry initiatives. Currently he is Co-Chair of the Enterprise Expert Group at OSGi Alliance.

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