Understanding isn't SOA simple

Integration is a word many companies don't want to hear.

With new concepts like service-oriented architecture (SOA), many businesses struggle to comprehend what integration is and how can it support their business requirements.

SOA is a software architectural concept that defines the use of services to support the requirements of software users. Stressing the virtues of interoperability and reusability, SOA promises greater flexibility and responsiveness in data systems and the business processes they support.

However adoption of SOA and business process management is hindered by lack of comprehension of the most basic vocabulary around the topic, according to Michael Kuhbock, chairman and founder, Integration Consortium, an industry group focused on establishing integration standards and best practices.

"Integration has finally come out of the closet and is no longer the 500-pound gorilla in the room that everyone is trying to ignore," said Kuhbock.

Scant understanding of application integration technologies among enterprises is an issue that needs to be addressed on a priority basis, according to New York-based iWay Software.

An affiliate of business intelligence vendor Information Builders, iWay develops enterprise integration applications.

The company recently embarked on a series of "best-practice" tours to consult with businesses and understand business challenges around integration, said Jake Freivald, vice-president of iWay Software.

"People were interested in finding out what [integration] is, but they have no definition of the benefits, and they don't even understand the acronyms," said Freivald.

Through integration, disparate applications, data, processes and people can communicate with one another through business-defined processes. Integrated business processes don't simply allow a user to call up a particular application, but actually provide information in a manner or form that's simple and consistent with a business' requirements, Freivald said.

IWay recently launched its new enterprise service bus (ESB) offering dubbed, iWay SOA Middleware, which the company claims would enable organizations to build a SOA by reusing existing apps regardless of the technology underneath.

Freivald said iWay integration tools essentially work as a plug-and-play mechanism capable of linking together disparate applications, whether they are proprietary, standards-based or legacy systems.

The value of an SOA does not come from technology integrating the applications, but rather from business's ability to dictate what's required from IT, he said. "It should be a top-down approach," Frievald said. "Business steps are defined from the top, then IT builds the services that [support] the business requirements."

IWay's technology sits on top of existing enterprise applications such as ERP, CRM and databases. As a middleware "fabric" the technology pulls together information from these systems, transforms and presents the content to the user in a form consistent with business needs.

"Message recognition and content transformation [are] the hardest parts of integration, and that's where we really excel," said John Senor, president of iWay Software. Prior to the SOA Middleware launch, iWay was a provider of software adapters for application integration and counts for its customers Microsoft and BEA Systems.

Microsoft's BizTalk Sever 2006 uses .NET-based application adapters purchased from iWay last year, said David McJannet, Microsoft Canada's SQL Server senior product manager. BizTalk Server 2006 is also a middleware tool that serves as a "single entry point" for enterprise applications as well trading partner applications, he said.

IWay's new middleware offering, however, brings the company in direct competition with Microsoft's BizTalk Server 2006, said McJannet.

Included in iWay's SOA Middleware stack are the iWay Service Manager, an enterprise service bus with workbench and Web services capabilities, iWay Service Monitor, and iWay Enterprise Index, which extends keyword search capability of Google Search Appliance to ERP systems, databases, messages, business processes, middleware and B2B interactions.

IWay Process Manager, a BPEL (business process execution language)-based business process management tool, is software that allows users to design automated workflows across a particular business process using process-driven business intelligence, Senor explained. The built-in intelligence also eliminates programmer errors when designing a workflow, he added.

By simplifying application integration, iWay aims to lower the skill-set requirements to operate an otherwise complex SOA, resulting in productivity improvement and lower maintenance, Senor said.

Business is demanding accountability and value from their IT investment, said Kuhbock. "Only an intelligent enterprise-wide integration strategy and infrastructure will be able to support business in 2006 and beyond."

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