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It’s funny how history has a tendency to repeat itself in the IT industry, and you really need to have a long memory in order to make sense of things as they change. Such is the case with the new offering of “integration appliances,” an EAI technology in a new wrapper. However, whether this technology is right for you really depends on what type of problem you’re looking to solve. You have to consider the value of any type of technology as well as its proper application; that is not different.

You may remember, shortly after the impact of the Internet hit back in the mid-’90s came about the notion of “Internet appliances,” or browsers in a box. The idea was to provide just the basic Web browser functionality with a specialized single-purpose device and thus simplify the Internet experiences and enable people who could not otherwise afford it to use the Internet. Good idea? Perhaps. Did it work? Not really. Indeed, a follow-on notion, network computing, was also supposed to change the way we viewed application development; it too did not make it to the mainstream.

So, we are again looking at another appliance. There are several companies that are offering basic application integration functionality including transformation, orchestration, routing, flow control, connectors, etc., all inside an appliance-type offering. So, what’s the difference between this approach and more traditional technology? It’s really a matter of how you leverage it, and in what type of problem domain. However, the first thing on the list is to understand the notion, the application, and the value.

The Notion

Most of the integration appliance guys seem to think of their offering as an “application router” of sorts, with similar design patterns to those found in a network router. Indeed, they are looking to offer integration that’s much closer to the network than traditional integration servers.

I’m not sure any of these integration appliances are attempting to replace existing mainstream integration servers; they are instead looking to work with them, providing a point of service and information aggregation of sorts between a few source and target applications and an integration server. I’m sure this also means that integration appliances are designed for more simplistic integration problems, perhaps with fewer than a dozen source or target systems.

The real selling point of integration appliances is their simplicity. Since the boxes come pre-configured and optimized, that saves you from figuring that out yourself, or perhaps spending a bunch on consultants to do it for you. Moreover, they are not going to charge you as much for this technology as traditional integration servers, and since all of the platforms are standardized, maintenance becomes less of an issue. The idea is to configure this thing, place it on a rack and forget about it.


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