This column was written by Trevor Matz, managing director of Enterprise Application Integration for InterSystems Corporation, a founding member of the EAI Consortium and a technology innovator in business integration with the Ensemble universal business integration platform. Before joining InterSystems, Matz was president and CEO of a leading systems integration and groupware development company. With more than 18 years of experience in the IT industry, Matz is recognized as one of the pioneers of networking and integration in multiple international markets.

Market demand for integration technology is extremely strong. META Group, a leading IT research firm, has estimated the 2004 market for enterprise application integration (EAI) software to be $9 billion, reflecting a compound annual growth rate of 89 percent since 1999. Yet, although many companies are working to meet this demand, the integration sector is still highly fragmented with no obvious market leader. One recent example: more than half of the respondents to an InfoWorld survey could not specifically name any integration software vendor.

It's evident that point solutions, traditional integration suites and even the newer application platform suites lack some of the key components IT executives are looking for from integration platforms. What seems to be needed is a universal business integration platform (UBIP) that enables the seamless fusion of real-time business intelligence with business process orchestration and event-driven process reengineering with service-oriented development of new composite applications.

Business and Technology Challenges for UBI

The challenges of UBI are broad-based and complex. On the business side, these include:

  • Providing improved data and application availability to internal users and external customers by coordinating transactional data between disparate applications in order to achieve cross-application data consistency.
  • Creating single/global views of the business for external customers to deliver improved customer satisfaction and for internal users to achieve faster time to market.
  • Enhancing existing legacy applications and building new applications that leverage existing application functionality and data to enable changing business strategies.
  • Automating manual processes and integrating previously autonomous operational and management systems.
  • Finding ways to better utilize up-to-date cross-application information to remove delays in managing and executing critical business processes and strategies.

The technical challenges are equally daunting with scenarios that can include:

  • Integrating data from repositories that can range from decades-old hierarchical IMS databases to a myriad of relational data repositories as well as post-relational databases.
  • Developing new composite applications that fuse existing application functionality from disparate applications with new business logic and transactional front ends.
  • Delivering real-time access to both live and previously processed transactional messages for auditing and business activity monitoring (BAM), and high reliability and recoverability for long-running business processes.
  • The need to monitor and manage the integrated environment in order to accurately identify which application or technology components are the root cause of problems anywhere within the integration domain.

Evolution of Integration Alternatives

Despite these challenges, the business requirements for integration are so strong that IT executives continue to conceive, develop and deploy integration projects in both commercial and government sectors. This is the driving force behind an evolution that began with a focus on data consistency among applications, leading to a hub-and-spoke architecture. Next came business process management (BPM), which moved integration technology into the business realm. By 2000, Web services and service-oriented architectures resulted in development of composite applications and the convergence of application development with application integration.

Since then, developers have seen the emergence of:

  • Enterprise information integration (EII) platforms which enable building a federated database that provides a single logical view of multiple, physical disparate data repositories;
  • BAM solutions which merge operational business intelligence with real-time integration technologies;
  • Integration "suites" that have taken traditional integration broker technology and, through acquisition or licensing of disparate products, have turned them into technology assemblies with virtually no commonality in their development, deployment and management environments;
  • Application platform suites that unify architecture and development across the integration, application and portal servers but lack a tightly coupled meta data and data management tier.

UBI: The Next Step

A UBIP that approaches the challenges of IT and business needs from a meta data and data-driven perspective and offers as its foundation a shared meta data repository and a scalable message warehouse as seamless platform components is the logical evolution of next generation integration platform architectures.

This platform addresses multiple UBI requirements through:

  • Complexity reduction - can be accomplished by abstracting interfaces, logic and data models into a single canonical form that can then be represented in multiple ways, depending on the developer's preference. A SAP BAPI would be presented in the same way as an SQL stored procedure, for example. And a Java developers can access the SAP BAPI as a Java Class, while a .NET developer can access the same component as a C## class.
  • Shared meta data repository - that contains the abstracted classes referred to previously as well as all the definitions of all the integration touchpoints such as adapter definitions, messages maps and transformations, routing rules, publish and subscribe lists, business process model definitions, BAM analytic, new business logic, and so forth.
  • Transactional message persistence - in effect, the ability to persist vast amounts of transactional messages in real time while making this data available to external users for analytics and reporting. The limitations of relational technology in terms of performance, scalability and the combination of OLTP and OLAP functionality in new post-relational database technology makes using these new object-oriented data stores the logical approach to fulfilling this requirement.
  • Fusion of EAI and EII - this eliminates the need to use messaging- or application-centric integration solutions for EAI projects and separate data-centric solutions for EII initiatives.
  • Real-time business process feedback - not only must the BAM framework provide feedback about prespecified metrics to appropriate information users, but it must also provide this information directly to the business processes so those processes can be automatically optimized to meet enterprise objectives.

UBIPs that meet these requirements will feature a comprehensive architecture that addresses integration across the presentation, application, integration, and data tiers of the integration stack. The results of this UBI approach can result in a very concrete and rapid return on the integration technology investment of any enterprise.

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