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Profiles in application integration

As both service-oriented and cloud-based architecture take the fore, IT shops increasingly value top-notch integration design. Stories show application integration is changing today.

As both service-oriented and cloud-based architecture take the fore, IT shops increasingly value good integration design. To avoid the potential pitfalls of too-rapid cloud application integration, carefully planned architecture is a necessity; the same sound development processes apply to the design of complex SOA-based system upgrades. Optimal design is more important than ever as application integration calls for more flexibility and widespread workability. In the dawn of cloud computing application integration, experiences with integration-centric cloud computing like iPaaS indicate that the fast-growing number of cloud adopters face a future of complex integration and design challenges.

SOA as a project continues to edge into the mainstream, but SOA as a program remains in the early stages. Today's development managers are keen to see case studies and hear about "lessons learned" in this still-new area.’s 2011-2012 reader survey bears this out: The data shows 77% of survey respondents have a SOA or are investigating one, but only 28% have of respondents’ organizations have multiple SOA projects underway.

The shift from one-to-many SOA projects remains a challenge for many organizations. To address those hurdles at IBM Impact 2012 in Las Vegas, focus on SOA knowledge and best practices took the form of several sessions that outlined the “SOA Journey.”

Daniel Neal, general manager of Australia-based Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, said that business leaders will call for clear return-on-investment (ROI) benefits, and these may require very careful selection of the early application targets for SOA transformation. "You will find it hard from an ROI perspective if you do not have a strong business process to work on,” he said.

Transactional integrity is transforming in the era of the Web as throngs of front-end Web users 'hit' the back-end mainframe. As a result, the software architect must work to balance conflicting system objectives.

Going forward, both the mainframe and the Web front-end have distinct roles to play, according to a noted industry analyst. James Governor, principal analyst and founder of RedMonk, spoke about mainframe transaction processing at IBM Impact 2012 in Las Vegas in a session on IBM's Z-series and transactional integrity issues.

Software designers should work to gain a good understanding of those roles in order to succeed with increasingly stressed Web application architectures, Governor stated. Central to understanding the issue of transactions, said analyst Governor, is an understanding of the ''CAP'' theorem of computer scientist Eric Brewer. ''CAP'' here stands for ''Consistency-Availability-Partition Tolerance.''

Many adopters of Platform as a Service (PaaS) and cloud computing are sold on the promise of faster integration development. However, according to one early cloud adopter, that need for speed is the biggest pitfall of the process.

Pradip Sitaram, CIO of Enterprise Community Partners LLC, noted that when companies fail to see the potential dangers of rushing to deploy cloud applications, they are at risk for critical oversight as routine requirements and testing are ignored. Sitaram also explained why his own team took the time to carefully plan the best design methods for its cloud-based system. “Integration is the result of good architecture – it’s not the other way around,” he said. His warning to those in the market for PaaS and cloud computing: Don’t compromise sound software development processes in exchange for speedy integration development. 

Health care organizations seeking a system upgrade contend with multiple department services and various applications that require unification. Michael Sanchez, principal Web architect at Sharp Healthcare, recently discussed building an effective SOA-based system with an ESB joined to a portal to integrate health care record information in three disparate applications already in use.

Sharp Healthcare adopted Oracle SOA Suite and Oracle WebLogic Suite to support its mySharp patient portal, and the project runs on an Oracle Service Bus. Sanchez noted that the use of the Oracle ESB was crucial to unifying the disparate systems to ensure that they could work together to generate one response for inquiring patients. Sanchez said Sharp Healthcare is able to add new back-end patient care as needed, and hopes to expand its portal to include other systems in its hospitals.

As cloud computing architecture gains ground, middleware integration challenges loom ahead. In this early stage of cloud application integration, so-called integration-centric cloud computing – known as “Infrastructure as a Service (“IaaS”), “Platform as a Service” (“PaaS”) or “Integration Platform as a Service” (“iPaaS”) – includes a broad range of middleware services proving effective for successful cloud integration. But iPaaS cloud integration comes with its own set of unique challenges – particularly security and data handling issues – that keep the complexity in the cloud effort.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are gaining importance in integration design as application integration calls for more flexibility and tolerance to sudden changes. To that end, APIs increasingly support REpresentational State Transfer (REST) interfaces, which require a more general design approach and allow workability in a wide variety of situations.

At the Gartner AADI conference in Las Vegas, Gartner Vice President and Analyst Daniel Sholler cited the generality of REST architecture as the reason for its popularity with a wide range of programmers and its success with third-party cloud and mobile applications. Likewise, the application of REST principles to the design of Web services – what Sholler called Web-oriented architecture, or WOA – is based on the idea that the design should be “absolutely application neutral” and “as general as possible,” according to Sholler.  As cloud and mobile applications continue to spread, achieving that neutrality in API design—while ensuring that REST is used only where it will work well—is crucial to successful integration design.


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