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The Role of Web Services in Enterprise Application Architecture

The Role of Web Services in Enterprise Application Architecture

Web services play an important role in building enterprise application architectures. These architectures, by nature, provide a blueprint describing software structure. This blueprint allows enterprise application architecture to be the confluence of business and technology, supporting business requirements and providing technology enablers.

For enterprise application architecture to accomplish this task, Web services will play a critical role. In this article, I will discuss the vision for Web services within complex corporations, how it compares and fits versus EAI, and how to begin implementing Web services within a corporation.

Background
In order to understand the role of Web services in enterprise application architecture, the architecture must be fully understood. Enterprise application architecture is defined as "the structure of components, their interrelationships, and the principles and guidelines governing their design and evolution over time." With today's business requirement of positive return on investment (ROI), application architects must focus on the business application portfolio to show direct business value. Redundant databases and silo applications produce operational surplus, negatively affecting the bottom line. This is not tolerated in today's business climate. In short, information must be accessed in an easy, comprehensive manner. Thus, enterprise application architecture needs to set enterprise-level objectives for:

  • Consistency, integration, interoperability, and security
  • Reuse across applications
  • Flexibility to change applications
With these objectives, enterprise application architecture can drive high-quality systems - "better, faster, cheaper" - to achieve what every business desires:
  • Timely access to data and reports whenever and wherever needed
  • Flexible, adaptable systems that respond to rapidly changing business conditions
  • Accurate and consistent data throughout every department
  • Seamless integration and data sharing across the enterprise
  • Dependable security and reliability
  • Reasonable and affordable cost
How will enterprise application architecture achieve this? Enter Web services.

Web Services and the Enterprise Application Architecture Evolution
Through Web services, enterprise application architecture has evolved from a component-based architecture to a services-based architecture. Both component and service architectures rely on the same basic concept of reuse. However, a services-based architecture takes a component-based architecture and adds a programming model on top of it. That programming model is Web services.

Web services allow components to be published, discovered, and invoked over the network using standard Internet protocols (primarily HTTP(S) or SMTP). This new services-based architecture hides the underlying technology of a component, allowing an application to use the service without having to understand the underlying technology. An application need only know what a service does, how to use it, and where to find it. Additionally, the loose coupling of Web services allows applications that rely on that service to continue to run regardless of implementation changes. These two key pieces of services-based architecture - technology independence and loose coupling - fulfill today's business needs where yesterday's component architectures failed.

Fulfilling Today's Business Needs
There's certainly been plenty of buzz surrounding Web services technology, with its promises to reduce integration costs, change applications quickly, and exploit software resources across business units. But how do Web services bring value to business today?

Before you can understand how Web services can be applied in the enterprise, you must understand how large enterprises are organized. Large Fortune 500 enterprises are typically divided into both lines and sublines of business. These "companies within a company within a company" can consist of hundreds of employees with distinct business objectives and supporting applications. A look at today's entertainment conglomerates provides a good example. Sony, Vivendi, News Corporation, and Viacom are broken down into several lines of business, such as electronics, music, entertainment, and online. From here, each line of business is typically broken down into business units - for example, entertainment may be divided into home entertainment, television, and motion pictures. These corporate structures have caused a number of IT problems. The different business initiatives have created silo applications and redundant databases, resulting in poor information velocity and high costs. Web services help solve these problems through:

  • Application infrastructure services: Web services technologies can be used to deliver behind-the-scenes functionality such as user authentication, divisional content sharing, and common product sharing.
  • Enterprise application integration "Light": Web services technologies can solve the complex integration challenges of linking applications across business units within an enterprise, at a cost that can be justified.

    Application Infrastructure Services
    Using Web services, cross-divisional sharing of application infrastructure services eliminates the need for the "big bang" approach that has plagued corporate-wide initiatives such as single sign-on and enterprise-wide portals. Instead, instant efficiencies can be realized through the development of Web services from existing business components. Developers can provide centralized business components with the simplicity and ubiquity of XML over HTTP.

    Web services are ideal for building reusable business components when data and business rules need to be reused between two or more applications. These components can be grouped together to form a business process or stand alone. Once these Web services have been developed, they can be registered in a local UDDI, allowing other divisions to tap into them - no all-encompassing, enterprise-wide effort is needed.

    Product rights lookup is a perfect example of an application infrastructure service that can be developed as a reusable business component. Rights are typically addressed on an application-by-application basis rather than an enterprise basis. These rights are managed by different systems and can lead to inconsistent rights information, enough to make lawyers cringe. By developing and deploying a product rights lookup Web service, enterprises can make that information reusable by all applications requiring rights information.

    Enterprise Application Integration 'Light'
    Enterprise application integration (EAI) platforms are at the forefront of most enterprise application architecture concerns because EAI revolves around understanding information flow and efficiencies. Generally, most large companies looking at EAI solutions fall into three categories:

  • Companies who have purchased one or more EAI packages: But they may still be having trouble making sense of them.
  • Companies who realize their integration problem: Many point-to-point interfaces with very little overall understanding of their integration architecture. These enterprises are exploring ways to transform their integration problem to serve their business needs and produce a positive ROI.
  • Companies who have a particular project with a complex integration requirement: An example of such a project is an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system replacement.

    Both Web services and EAI can provide solutions for these three categories of companies. The key question for corporations is which solution is better for what situation?

    Web services are ideal for EAI when a rapid, noncomplex integration solution is needed. Web services promote a peer-to-peer type of integration environment that is relatively low-cost to operate and still provides better federation than point-to-point integrations. On the flip side, existing EAI technologies use expensive and proprietary technology to conquer the 20% of projects that are very complex or high in volume. Existing EAI vendors best serve this need. The remaining 80% of integrations are ideal for Web services because Web services are low in cost, standards-based, easy to learn and use, and endorsed by the entire technology industry.

    In addition, combining Web services with other technologies such as portals - reusable user interface components - is another area in which enterprises should look to use Web services as an EAI solution. Because diversity is commonplace in corporate environments - it's not unusual to see two or more ERP systems, two or more CRM systems, and two or more portal systems - Web services can make these systems work together. The end result is a shortened development time frame and a more consistent, high-quality product.

    Implementing Web Services Within an Enterprise
    How should enterprises begin developing and deploying Web services? First, IT organizations need to immediately address two issues before 'Web services creep' gets out-of-hand, much like corporate Web sites in the mid-1990s:

    • Who governs Web services?
    • What framework controls should be put around the development and deployment of Web services?
    Governance of Web services: Enterprise Application Architecture
    Because any application developer can build a Web service relatively easily and cheaply, IT governance of Web services is an important issue and cannot be underestimated. Without the right IT governance, a web of applications producing and consuming Web services can exist before an IT executive even has Web services on his or her radar. So who will own the central registry of Web services, deciding where and when to produce and consume them? In addition, who will monitor these Web services to make sure they perform as advertised? Enter enterprise application architecture.

    Enterprise application architecture groups allow the federation of Web services through a centralized group. Since architects tend to also be the visionaries and most experienced technology people, they will be able to make the crucial decisions on when and when not to produce Web services for certain business processes. Furthermore, this will allow for creativity and experimentation with this new technology while keeping it under control. Finally, managing and monitoring centralized repositories of Web services makes sense for enterprise application architecture since the architects' primary responsibility is to unite business and technology to meet business needs.

    Web Services Framework: WebLogic Workshop and BEA Platform 7.0
    In a Web services world, corporations will continue to head towards the process of application assembly and away from application development. Application assembly involves the typical component architecture practices of reusing frameworks and shared components. With Web services, application assembly additionally involves the services architecture practice of consuming Web services. What tools are available for application assembly of both components and services today? Enter WebLogic Workshop.

    WebLogic Workshop provides a visual development environment that lets non-Java developers generate J2EE code simply by visually specifying business processes. Application developers can build applications by adding methods and controls, setting properties, and writing business logic using Java. To reduce tedious Web services work for Java and non-Java developers alike, Workshop also automatically generates WSDL contracts and all related XML code, including SOAP messages, UDDI registry entries, and schemas. Further, WebLogic Workshop validates the WSDL contract, reporting any violation. Loose coupling and both asynchronous and synchronous communications are fully supported.

    Java developers can create Workshop controls through Enterprise JavaBeans, direct database connections, or other methods. Additionally, any Web service can be converted automatically into a control on WebLogic Workshop's palette and be made available for reuse. This makes creation of Workshop controls ideal for hard-core Java developers who are focused on key system components rather than new application development.

    Finally, WebLogic Workshop provides its own runtime engine through BEA's WebLogic Platform 7.0. This allows for a single, easy-to-use, infrastructure platform to develop, deploy, and manage Web services, and eliminates the need to write the hundreds of lines of J2EE plumbing that it would take to run a Web service without the runtime framework.

    Despite its technical achievements, perhaps the most appealing aspect of Workshop for enterprises is its ability to separate the responsibilities of the enterprise developer and the application developer. The enterprise developer, who is part of the governing body of Web services, can concentrate on creating controls and the underlying frameworks, while the application developer can focus on assembling actual business applications. This separation of concerns works well in today's line-of-business organizational structures. Line-of-business developers can focus on their particular business applications while still plugging into the "enterprise plumbing" that is produced by the enterprise developers through Web services.

    Conclusion
    Web services are the future and if CIOs are unprepared, they're liable to face the same integration and silo application problems tomorrow that they have today, but with an additional amount of complexity through poorly managed Web services. However, CIOs who provide the proper governance through an enterprise-wide group such as enterprise application architecture and establish solid frameworks for Web services such as BEA Workshop and Platform 7.0 should find themselves in a position to drive significant cost savings through applications infrastructure services and application integration.

    Reference

  • IEEE: STD 610.12 (Hagle brief)
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