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Enterprise Application Integration - the Latest Trend in Getting Value from Data

Written By: M. Reed
Published On: February 1 2000

Summary

Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) is one of the hot-button issues in Information Technology in 2000. Information Week's research survey of 300 technology managers showed nearly 75% of respondents said EAI is a planned project for their IT departments in the coming year. According to a study by Bank Boston, the market for EAI is expected to be $50 Billion USD by 2001.

Successful EAI requires a careful combination of a middleware framework, distributed object technologies, and custom consulting. Many vendors have evolved out of the middleware space, and some are coming from the Extract/Transform/Load space. It remains to be seen what approach will provide the most value for a new EAI product. Many of these products are refashioned middleware tools.

Vendors are attempting "out of the box" solutions, but there is immense complexity involved in integrating applications, particularly extended supply chain, e-commerce, and customer relationship management/sales force automation. The key to the entire puzzle is in the architecture of the integration, which must be carefully examined before any implementation is attempted.

EAI began at Goldman Sachs in New York nearly 10 years ago, where they funded the Teknekron Information Bus (TIB) to pump stock market quotes into different systems. The programmers who wrote Teknekron then left and founded TIBCO. Many of those same developers are now with Vitria.

The basic components required to achieve EAI are the following:

Business Rule Component: to allow the applications to understand your business processes

Business Logic Modules (i.e. supply planning, sales order processing. Methods for business process management.)

Transformation tools (to define how to map data from one system to another)

Data Acquisition Component: to allow access to the data

Data Source and Target Interfaces (i.e. Siebel, SAP, PeopleSoft, ODBC, Oracle, CICS, IMS) - note that the data acquisition component is crucial to EAI success. Most vendors refer to these interfaces as "adapters" -

System Development Component: to allow programmers to design and test custom requirements -

Design tools (for business process design, debugging, and testing)

A published API (Application Programming Interface) to the product so custom extensions can be written as needed

System Control Component: to allow the application to be monitored and controlled

Management tools (for application-specific monitoring), preferably with support for the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) via a vendor-supplied SNMP agent

Directory tools (for locating other applications on different platforms), particularly support for the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP)

ommitment control management mechanisms (for control of business-level logical units of work)

Strong support for metadata management, preferably distributed and bi-directionally synchronized

Message Brokers (to control transactions, control security, and perform event notification, i.e. IBM's MQSeries, or Microsoft's MSMQ for Windows NT). The product should also include the capability to "bridge" messages between different messaging systems (i.e., an IBM MQSeries mainframe application that needs to communicate with a Microsoft MSMQ application on Windows NT)

Scalability for high-volume transaction throughput. We cannot put enough emphasis on attention to scalability. It is almost impossible to know at implementation time what the data volumes will be in the future

Support for varying levels of fault tolerance, load balancing, and failover for mission-critical systems

Workflow enablement (via SMTP, publish/subscribe capabilities, etc.) is a key requirement to reduce latency between distributed processes. The product should also have links to workgroup products such as Lotus Notes

System Access Component:

A Web-based portal for transparent, integrated information access

The ability to work both inside and outside the corporate firewall

To attempt to explain EAI, an understanding of data-oriented middleware is necessary. In addition, the "portal" concept must be explained, as the web is the standard front-end to these distributed technologies. The topology of this type of application can be split into two parts; the first is the middleware that connects the disparate data sources, the second is the business logic that provides a unified view of the data. Given the complexity of this solution, consulting is required to integrate all the pieces, as there is no "out of the box" solution that can provide plug-and-play integration.

Much consideration must be given to the coupling of time and process. There are three basic communication types which may be required for the middleware solution:

Asynchronous: provided by products such as IBM's MQ Series, used in situations where the communicating applications don't need to be active at the same time. This allows applications to be "loosely coupled in time". An example of this would be a terminal application feeding a batch process.

Synchronous: provided by OMG's CORBA and Microsoft's COM, used where the business logic requires that the applications communicate in real-time. The requesting transaction waits until it receives the result set from the other application.

Transactional: using transaction monitors such as IBM's CICS or BEA's Tuxedo. This is required where the logical unit of work (defined as one business transaction) spans multiple systems.

The last major requirement for an EAI system is security, typically in the form of single sign-on (to provide access to all the required data without multiple passwords.) Using EAI provides a business with the ability to consolidate "stovepipes" of information from various transactional, legacy, relational, and other sources into a unified and secure view.

An additional challenge is the need to rationalize the data in the different data sources. For example, the definition and datatype of the "customer" field may vary from one database to another. These dimensions need to be conformed in order for any meaningful integration to take place. The integrator must also take into account how "real-time" the application's data needs to be. Event-based synchronous communications can be difficult to define, usually requiring database triggers or database log analyzers. When the data source is not a relational database (i.e., a text file), this process can become extremely complicated.

Market Impact

Data extraction tool and message-oriented middleware vendors are having to scramble to add additional functionality to their software. According to Richard Soley, chairman and CEO of the Object Management Group, "The need for enterprise application integration is nothing new. Common business problems driving the EAI market include mergers and acquisitions, supply chain integration, accessibility to legacy data, and the emergence of e-commerce and globalization. All of these factors are driving demand for an integrated enterprise. By implementing these EAI-oriented initiatives, the OMG is concentrating on end-user needs and helping define integration specifications based on existing standardized middleware frameworks, including the OMG's CORBA technology."

The OMG's first technical workshop on EAI will be held in February 2000. Look for packaged EAI applications to become more prevalent in the next two years (90% probability). Custom consulting, however, will still be required to "wire" the middleware together (100% probability.)

Vendors in this market space include:

Active Software: ActiveWorks Integration System
Alier: EnterpriseConnect
Auxilium: Info*Engine
BEA Systems: WebLogic
Candle: Roma
Cel Corporation: Celware
Constellar: Constellar Hub
CrossWorlds Software: CrossWorlds integration applications
Extricity Software: AllianceSeries
Iona Technologies: Orbix
MITEM: MitemView
New Era of Networks: (NEON) Convoy
Oberon Software: Business Integrator, Commerce Integrator
Saga Software: Sagavista
Software Technologies (STC): e*Gate Enterprise Integration
Talarian: SmartSockets
Tanit: Tanit CAST, Tanit STREAM
Tempest Software: Tempest Messenger System
Tibco: TIB/ActiveEnterprise
TSI International Software (Mercator): Mercator E-Business Broker
Vitria Technology: BusinessWare

Many of these vendors have only written pre-packaged applications for particular vertical industries (i.e., Telecom), so customers will have to investigate multiple vendors to insure there is support for their particular industry.

User Recommendations

Customers with a need for EAI should ensure that the vendor and/or consulting firm used to build the application has a proven methodology for application integration, and check reference sites. Since the whole idea behind EAI is to integrate disparate data and technologies, the methodology should be component-based. The effort will be arduous, but the returns from an integrated information portal can be significant. Customers should try for the highest level of abstraction from the middleware to help promote reuse of components, reduce the level of coupling between applications, and reduce the amount of custom coding required in lower level languages (i.e. C or C++).

If the application is to be used over an extranet or the Internet (EAI is also sometimes referred to as IAI, or Internet Application Integration, when used with external customers), the product should support the Secure Sockets Layer, access control lists, and X.509 certificates. In addition, the prospective customer should ensure that the tool employs UML (Unified Modeling Language) compliant business process modeling.

Glossary

ODBC: Open Database Connectivity. A database programming interface from Microsoft that provides a common language for Windows applications to access databases on a network. ODBC is made up of the function calls programmers write into their applications and the ODBC drivers themselves.

JDBC: Java Database Connectivity. A programming interface that lets Java applications access a database via the SQL language. Since Java interpreters (Java Virtual Machines) are available for all major client platforms, this allows a platform-independent database application to be written. JDBC is the Java counterpart of Microsoft's ODBC. Java was originally developed by Sun Microsystems.

OLE DB: OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) Database. A programming interface for data access from Microsoft. It functions in a similar manner as ODBC, but for every type of data source not just SQL databases. Applications can use OLE DB to access ODBC databases as well. OLE DB for OLAP is used to access OLAP databases. OLE DB is a COM object.

COM: Component Object Model. A component software architecture from Microsoft, which defines a structure for building program routines (objects) that can be called up and executed in a Windows environment.

Native Interface: An interface written to a specific database API (Application Programming Interface) which gives access to all of the features provided by the database vendor. It is typically more robust and faster than using ODBC, JDBC, or OLE DB (which are database translation interfaces.)

Database Gateway: A product that provides a connection to a database through a proprietary interface. Typically gateways make the database being connected to "look" like the gateway vendor's database (i.e., Oracle's gateway to IBM DB2 makes DB2 look like an Oracle database). Database gateways translate SQL calls into a standard format known as Format and Protocol (FAP). One of the most popular gateway architectures is IBM's Distributed Relational Database Access (DRDA).

CORBA: Common Object Request Broker Architecture. A standard from the Object Management Group (OMG) for communicating between distributed objects (objects are self-contained software modules). CORBA provides a way to execute programs (objects) written in different programming languages running on different platforms no matter where they reside in the network. CORBA is suited for three-tier (or more) client/server applications, where processing occurring in one computer requires processing to be performed in another. CORBA is often described as an "object bus" or "software bus," because it is a software-based communications interface through which objects are located and accessed.

Business Intelligence Portal: A corporate portal that enables users to query and produce reports on enterprise-wide databases. The term was coined by Information Advantage, makers of the MyEureka software, which was the first to combine BI software with a corporate portal. Information Advantage has since been acquired by Sterling Software.

UML: Unified Modeling Language. An object-oriented design language from the Object Management Group (OMG). Many design methodologies for describing object-oriented systems were developed in the late 1980s. UML "unifies" the popular methods into a single standard.

SSL: Secure Sockets Layer. The leading security protocol on the Internet. When an SSL session is started, the browser sends its public key to the server so that the server can securely send a secret key to the browser. The browser and server exchange data via secret key encryption during that session.



 
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