Fit EAI processes neatly in a box

Application integration projects are among the most expensive and difficult to manage. An intelligent appliance optimized for EAI (enterprise application integration) tasks would create remarkable savings and at the same time introduce some discipline to these often-messy processes.

Think of the integration appliance as a development and deployment platform to centralize all integration tasks, regardless of their location and technical connotations. The Syncx 6100 Integration Appliance from CommerceRoute Inc., for example, can handle a variety of data sources, such as JDBC (Java Database Connectivity), ODBC, EDI (electronic data interchange), and XML. It supports various transport protocols, including FTP, HTTP, and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), and it can automatically discover and invoke objects coded in common middleware protocols, including COM (Component Object Model), CORBA, and EJB (Enterprise JavaBeans).

Of course, the long-term effectiveness of an integration appliance will depend on the vendor’s support for emerging standards. For its part, CommerceRoute promises timely updates with new protocols as they become available. Using the Syncx GUI, administrators can connect to the CommerceRoute Connect Service and automatically download and install support for new features or integration technologies on their appliance.

Furthermore, an integration appliance should not make data difficult to manage. Notably, data sources and targets of each transformation process are not actually copied to the Syncx appliance, hence you won’t create difficult-to-maintain duplicates of your data. The appliance will store only references to each resource, plus the transformation logics and schedules for each task. Your data will continue to reside at its current location, but the appliance will become a comprehensive directory of your applications and data repositories.

To prevent the appliance from becoming a single point of failure or to improve performance, however, administrators can create clusters of Syncx, coordinated by a master appliance, that share scheduled operations and improve the reliability and responsiveness of EAI tasks.

Arguably, a company could achieve the same results by concentrating all EAI tasks on a dedicated server, but the cost of implementing an infrastructure with similar functionality would largely exceed the US$35,000 price tag of the CommerceRoute appliance.

Moreover, the modular, standard-based architecture of Syncx makes the unit a likely candidate for intercompany integration projects. As with any new technology, market acceptance will decide the success of CommerceRoute’s Syncx 6100 and the future of integration appliances. Nevertheless, this recent and unique addition to the crowded server appliances market could be the ultimate cost-saving and efficiency-boosting device for enterprise application integration.

CommerceRoute Syncx 6100

CommerceRoute is the only company currently offering an appliance, the Syncx 6100 Integration Appliance, built to manage EAI (enterprise application integration). The company is working on additional models that will see the market later this year and will include built-in support for various standards and ERP applications.

There’s much to like about Syncx 6100, and it compares well with its software-only EAI counterparts. Probably the most important differentiator between the appliance and software solutions is that the Syncx 6100 enforces a standard-based approach to EAI, breaking each integration project into its basic components: a data source, a data target, what data transformation should occur, and when the process should happen.

Making the Syncx 6100 the focal point of integration requires some legwork: For example, you must register the data resources to integrate, upload database drivers to the appliance, or define users and assign responsibilities. Those tasks are easily performed, however, via the appliance’s Java-based, point-and-click GUI, which allows a developer to define components, test that everything works as expected, and let the appliance automatically manage that task thereafter.

With similar simplicity, a developer can chain multiple operations that start automatically when a previous step is completed successfully.

Developers can handle most simple data integration tasks via the Syncx GUI. For more complex activities, CommerceRoute offers CRbuilder, a visual modeling tool that developers can use to tackle more complex integration tasks, such as consolidating information from multiple databases or linking existing objects.

CRbuilder can be installed via the appliance using the browser-based client, but oddly, it requires a Windows environment to work. Nevertheless, developers can easily access Syncx resources via CRbuilder, such as data transformation tasks or databases.

We liked the discipline that the Syncx 6100 fosters for integration projects, and we appreciate the advantage of decomposing complex integration activities into simple, easy-to-manage tasks. We were slightly disappointed, however, that although the browser-based administrative client works on any Java-compliant browser, an important component such as CRbuilder requires a Windows installation. Also, loaded with proper connectivity drivers, Syncx can access databases on just about any platform, but the appliance has no drivers for some common mainframe file formats such as VSAM.

Mario Apicella ([email protected]) covers enterprise applications for the InfoWorld Test Center.

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