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J2EE Journal: Article

Rise of the Standards-Based Integration Machines

Rise of the Standards-Based Integration Machines

It occurs to me that my choice of title for this guest editorial may be at least partially influenced by the recall-induced elections in California (can you see the Arnie connection?). But this column is not about politics; it's about a new, industry-standard ecosystem built around XML to address today's business integration and process automation challenges.

The nature of technology ecosystems is that they are created piecemeal, usually from the bottom up. Following this model, XML initially provided a common syntax for capturing and expressing data within documents. Next, XML Schema emerged to serve as a template for describing and enforcing document structures. Finally, functional entities, known as Web services, became standardized using XML to describe their operations (WSDL) and to exchange data over Internet transport layers (via SOAP, an XML-based protocol).

As the basic standards stack has evolved to support heterogeneous resources and data across the network, the time has come for the next layer, which addresses enterprise integration problems and increases business agility and flexibility. Once XML resources are published, consuming them, aggregating them, and coordinating control flow among them is the natural next step. This drove the emergence of BPEL4WS (aka BPEL), which provides an XML-based orchestration language for executing business processes.

Several requirements remain. Processing and transforming XML documents and basic algebra functionality, such as comparing and adding values together, are needed. In BPEL, these expressions are carried out using XPath. And since XML provides a platform-independent mechanism of integrating disparate systems, a flexible XML transformation capability can be effectively addressed with the use of XQuery.

Have you caught an important piece that I have missed so far? The preceding text portrays IT assets and resources as readily available via XML Web services protocols - hardly the case today. To our rescue comes a novel concept that I call the binding framework. Rather than migrating existing IT assets into XML and SOAP services (often uneconomical or inefficient), such assets are described by a WSDL file that defines the interface in a standardized way. The versatile binding framework then selects the appropriate protocol for communicating with the IT asset, based on its interface file.

To help handle the impending complexity and a potential for brittle and change-resistant integration architectures, is a concept called SOA, or service-oriented architecture. XML lends itself to building modular, loosely coupled systems. The standards-based integration machine comprises a set of built-in services, all working in tandem to provide the functions needed for enterprise integration and process automation. At the heart of such a machine lies the engine for orchestrating BPEL processes that utilize such services as document transformation, legacy systems access, and business rules execution.

One of the primary drivers for the emergence of standards-based integration machines is the rapidly growing BPM (business process management) market. In its market milestone report on BPM, Delphi Group touts BPM as the "final great boom of the software industry" and indicates a $550 million market for BPM in 2003 with 15%-30% growth expected for the next three years. A notable focus is on orchestration of enterprise-wide processes in which BPM constitutes an emerging layer of software for building new process-based applications.

These trends are not lost on enterprise software vendors with backgrounds in EAI, B2B, BPM, workflow, and Web services technologies as well as incumbent platform vendors who see the need to expand application development into the integration domain. The XML ecosystem is driving convergence among the seemingly disparate software categories to adopt SOA and the new standards stack. Whether called ESB (enterprise services bus) or BPEL orchestration server, the rise of the standardsbased integration machines is a sign of material changes to the traditional integration landscape. The JSR 208 extension (Java Business Integration) of the J2EE platform captures the essence of this new architecture.

The days of having to choose from expensive proprietary solutions, risky build-your-own infrastructure, and do-nothing-and-wait approaches are over. XML powers a simple, flexible approach that features rich process semantics, enhanced execution visibility, continuous adaptation, and optimization of business processes, and reduces vendor lock-in.

More Stories By Doron Sherman

Doron Sherman is the CTO of Collaxa, Inc., a Web Service Orchestration Server vendor and a BEA Partner located in Redwood Shores, California. He has been involved with Java since its early days and pioneered application server technology while being a founder and chief scientist at NetDynamics.

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