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Business Transformation in Action

Joe McKendrick

What's Next for the ESB? End of the Line, or Cloud Broker?

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My compatriot Dave Linthicum would have a few choice words if you asked him about about the fate of enterprise service buses, and indeed, there is debate as to how they will fit into the emerging SOA-cloud paradigm.  

Dave doesn't see much of a role for ESBs, and Ganesh Prasad, software architect, Java devotee and Open Source aficionado, agrees, and even came up with an interesting term for moving ESB approaches into the next decade -- to a new creature called the "enterprise service cloud."

The ESC moniker moves with the times, but are we really talking about something more than an ESB? Yes, Ganesh says emphatically. The ESB, he says, "follows a hub-and-spokes model that is more suited to an EAI initiative of the 1990s. In the year 2010, we should be doing SOA, not EAI." That means following a federated approach, not the EAI brokered approach. Plus, it doesn't matter if we're talking about SOAP or REST -- it's all federated, Ganesh says.

The ESB, on the other hand, is tied to the brokered approach, which makes it costly to maintain:

"The ESB is a single point of failure and a performance bottleneck. The normal 'solution' is to beef up the ESB by providing for redundancy and high availability, but this costs a fair bit and only postpones the inevitable.... The correct solution would be to do away with the ESB altogether and embrace the inherently federated model of SOAP (or REST).... In the year 2010, when clouds are all the rage, we should recognize that what SOAP and REST give us are 'service clouds.'"

Ganesh's reasoning is interesting, though we need more details on what an ESC or "service cloud" would look like, how it would be managed and governed, and whether the it would represent a next-gen ESB, or something completely different. Ultimately, SOA is about business transformation by breaking down applications and systems into flexible component services that can be mapped to ever-changing processes. The ESC Ganesh alludes to could be a private or internal cloud that is built on SOA principles.

But ESBs are, on some levels, now being pitched for cloud integration. There's been no shortage of debate over the years as to whether ESBs are really a legitimate part of service-oriented architecture, so we may as well get the argument started as to whether ESBs can be a legit part of clouds.

One thing seems certain, however -- you better keep it to your private cloud, because there are architectural issues with external ESBs.

Rob Barry provides some insights on this emerging trend. He notes there is some early examples of ESBs being deployed as cloud enablers, citing an example of how ESBs could enable data sharing within heavily siloed healthcare settings.

The greatest challenge to cloud-based ESBs? Mainly security for accessing ESBs outside the firewalls. That "means that dev managers need to put pressure on infrastructure teams to allow specific connections to specific machines, which creates maintenance points that are often difficult to track over time," advises Steven Nagy, a consultant.

In this blog (formerly known as "SOA in Action"), Joe McKendrick examines how BPM and related business and IT approaches can promote business transformation.

Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is an author and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. View more

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