Web services plug and play: promises, promises?

Enterprise application integration (EAI) was all the buzz in the late 1990s but the “new thing” is Web services with its promises of ‘plug and play’, but what does it really mean, is it just another vendor fad?

The truth is that the enterprise made real investments in integration before 2000 and naturally vendor revenues increased accordingly. Total product license revenues from integration brokers doubled each year from 1996.

But the real problem is still getting apps to “talk to each other” and APIs are frequently incompatible. Under the circumstances, according to SeeBeyond Pty. Ltd. CTO Ross Altman, getting applications to simply exchange data is a major success.

“The theory behind Web services is standardization, but for every standard that is a success there is a failure,” he said.

To assess the current landscape, Altman uses the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) from level one to five.

In reality, very few standards make it to level five because competition among vendors ensures this doesn’t happen because they want to differentiate.

“As a result, successful standards are usually the result of coercion,” Altman said.

“A review of the full suite of Web services standards show that most are currently at the lower levels of maturity; it will be seven years before we get plug and play data exchange. But getting applications to simply exchange data isn’t integration.

“To integrate, it requires data mapping or data transformation capabilities and that isn’t all you need.”

Put simply, it takes a lot of work and there are many components to a comprehensive integration technology toolkit that includes messaging, portal, adapters, B-to-B communications and other features.

“You could take two approaches. You could buy all your products from the same vendor to get more value for money or buy individual products from several vendors; the payoff is greater when you look at a single vendor’s integration toolkit as it reduces development costs,” Altman said. “Also remember to consider component re-use when building and deploying a service orientated architecture (SOA).”

But caution is warranted here. Just because multiple integration components come from the same vendor, it doesn’t mean that these components are in any way integrated.

Some vendors offer toolkits that are integrated in name only.

“If you don’t do it right, you could end up with the problem of integrating your integration tools. It sounds funny doesn’t it?” Altman asked.

“But, if you have to absorb the time, cost and risk of managing a collection of tools that were never meant to work together, the joke will be on you.”

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