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Its essential that buildings be constructed on solid foundations, and enterprise integration efforts are no different. Having well-planned and executed integration architectures virtually assures companies of getting the best performance and ROI from those efforts.



In the ebizQ webinar Developing an Application Integration Architecture, ebizQ Vice President for Strategic Services Beth Gold-Bernstein and Candle Corp. Senior Architect Peter Rhys Jenkins present the building blocks of an integration architecture, explain its advantages to organizations, and offer best practices for putting one together.

The Candle-sponsored hour is part of the Mapping Out the Right Integration Solution series, whose name is no accident: The series goes into detail on different aspects of ebizQ's Roadmap to Integration Technology. The map, Gold-Bernstein pointed out, is designed to help companies struggling to understand how to deploy the plethora of integration technologies now available. Whats more, all components of the map are clickable, leading ebizQ.net visitors to the vendors offering those products or services.

In a presentation peppered with real-life examples, Gold-Bernstein and Rhys Jenkins discussed various patterns of application integration. Gold-Bernstein called it the baseline technology for all integration architectures. Those patterns, she pointed out, are not mutually exclusive and in fact overlap and are used in various combinations in integration architectures.

Rhys Jenkins began by telling of a recent incident in which he booked a room at a swanky Manhattan hotel through hotels.com, only to be told when he arrived that his reservation wasnt in the hotels computer system. Why? Because, even though hotels.com is an online operation, its reservations with that hotel are faxed over and hand-keyed in later. And that hadnt happened yet. A striking example, Rhys Jenkins said, of the abundance of low-hanging fruit out there where better integration between systems, in this case, B2B integration, would benefit customers and companies alike.

The basic application integration patterns include:
  • Message Brokers: Generally, they have hub-and-spoke designs, with a server in the middle performing services such as translation, transformation and routing, with adapters connecting them to applications. They provide basic messaging services, which Gold-Bernstein dubbed an underlying technology that enables integration, often through integration with IBMs MQ series, which Rhys Jenkins called the de facto standard in this sector (with some 75 percent of the market). Gold-Bernstein observed that you always want to design for agility and change. Along those lines, Web services are becoming a standard application integration interface but, Gold-Bernstein said, they dont provide all integration needs, such as transformation, translation, routing, and messaging.
  • Enterprise Service Buses (ESBs): Rather than a hub-and-spoke design, ESBs feature a distributed bus architecture, making them inherently more scaleable than message brokers, Gold-Bernstein commented. In addition, You dont have a single point of failure. You can distribute and federate these services.
  • Legacy Systems: Whats most important here, Gold-Bernstein stressed, is that there are different ways to get at legacy systems. Among them: through the data level, through messaging interfaces, screen-scraping (a of last resort, Gold-Bernstein opined), and through service interfaces, which she described as a long-term architectural approach to enabling the mainframe to participate in newer applications for the future. That involves making services out of those legacy apps, which is where Web services come in. Rhys Jenkins added that Web services enable you to bridge the .NET and Java worlds, something he sees as becoming a lot more prevalent.
  • Portals: They take information from different back-end systems and make it available from one, easy interface. Application at the glass, Gold-Bernstein quipped. Rhys Jenkins noted the emerging importance of portlets, and added that portals are meant for businesspeople. Theyre for business solutions, where you care about the end-to-end view, looking at the whole thing.
  • Mobile Solutions: They involve many back-end integration services, Gold-Bernstein noted, and use a mobile server to rationalize the presentation of the different services to various types of mobile devices. There are additional requirements for mobile integration that layer on top of other integration infrastructure services. Security is of particular concern here, she pointed out, something Rhys Jenkins wholeheartedly agreed with. He also urged viewers to turn on encryption abilities that come standard with mobile systems, but arrive in the off position as their default mode.
  • B2B: These systems enable companies to hook up with customers, suppliers and partners outside the firewall. Back-end integration is needed to automate transactions. Other B2B services are required, such as partner management, detailing how partners will communicate with you and the terms of service level agreements. EDI, Rhys Jenkins observed, isnt going away anytime soon, but is trending more toward real-time rather than batch. Gold-Bernstein pointed out that EDI is expensive, so only large organizations can afford it, but B2B connectivity is slowly being extended to smaller partners through such less expensive means as Web browsers and XML. Another possibility: outsourcing B2B connectivity through vendors such as Grand Central Communications and Hubspan.

For each of the patterns, reference architectures were provided to viewers. The reference architectures pointed out the redundancy of technologies and services across these patterns. Overall, Gold-Bernstein said, those patterns are the underlying technologies that will enable the integration infrastructure of the future. You can build upon them. There are many benefits to looking at this from an enterprise point of view and building an integration architecture. Among them: avoiding redundancy (You dont want to, for example, have portals with different integration technology than your B2B integration. You dont want to have, as many companies do, five different adapters to one application because youve had five different tactical solutions that had to integrate with that back-end application.) In the long run, reducing redundancy reduces maintenance costs, since you have fewer technologies to run, and training costs, since you need fewer skill sets on hand. Also, You want to reduce the need to integrate integration technologies, Gold-Bernstein emphasized: That will be the bottom line, down the line. To maximize ROI, maximize reuse. And just one more reason for taking the enterprise approach to building an integration infrastructure is it enables you to look at patterns, and understand the overlap among them to help you avoid costly mistakes by doing it right the first time.

Then the speakers ran down numerous application integration architecture best practices, such as employing service oriented architectures (SOA) to maximize reuse and agility, creating a centralized architecture group and/or integration competency centers, architecting for performance and reliability and, Gold-Bernstein strongly advised, not implementing what you cant manage. Because down the road, it will break (Rhys Jenkin chimed in here that he agreed one thousand percent). You want to architect things to work together from the get-go, Gold-Bernstein suggested, because then youll know you can manage it over time. But if they do break, Rhys Jenkins added, consider some of the emerging autonomic computing solutions meant to fix themselves.

For much more detail on structuring your companys integration architecture, tune in to a replay of Developing an Application Integration Architecture.

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