Enterprise Application Integration Boosts Client-Server Scalability
Enterprise Application Integration Boosts Client-Server Scalability<@VM>Beyond Middleware<@VM>In the Driver's Seat<@VM>Opportunity for Many<@VM>Client-Server In Miniature
By Heather Hayes
Client-server systems have frustrated many government and business network managers because of the systems' inability to scale to the enterprise level. While client-server architectures have been a boon to the way an organization's data is stored and accessed, they have proven ineffective in tasks requiring multiple applications.
Fortunately, a solution known as enterprise application integration promises to allow the flow of information among different applications within disparate systems without the need for custom-built communications links, effectively solving client-server's scalability and interoperability issues.
"The client-server model, in a way, is simply about a client, an end user and a desktop accessing just one application," said Kimberly Knickle, an analyst with AMR Research, a Boston-based industry and market analysis firm specializing in enterprise applications and related technologies. "We're seeing that people want to access multiple applications, not just because they want data from all these applications, but because they want to automate various business processes that cross applications. They don't want to be doing all of that stuff by hand.
"In today's environment, the setup of the client-server model just doesn't work very well," Knickle said.
Industry analysts said EAI is poised to become the next significant trend in enterprise computing. AMR Research pegged the 1998 market at $450 million in product revenue, and predicts an admittedly conservative 50 percent annual growth rate over the next several years. "It could easily be a lot more than that," Knickle said.
Ovum Inc., an independent research and consulting company in Boston, goes much further, forecasting in a recent report that the EAI market will be worth more than $31 billion by 2004.
Jeanine Fournier, a senior analyst with the Aberdeen Group, said there are no good statistics available on the technology's adoption within vertical markets such as the federal market, because the market is so new and businesses are so tight-lipped about potential opportunities.
However, Fournier said she expects federal agencies to become major buyers of EAI, if only for the fact that they have the same needs driving commercial entities to adopt it. These include the need to integrate enterprise applications and to develop an infrastructure that is easier to maintain and that speaks the language of business processes and cross-functional best practices.
The technologies that make up EAI hardly are new, analysts said, but taken together, they offer a new way of solving an old problem: how to view all relevant corporate or agency data, no matter where it exists within the organization.
"Going from the synchronous client-server model to the asynchronous EAI model is comparable to going from a traditional database to a relational database," said Steve Craggs, vice president for the enterprise application integration business unit for Candle Corp., Santa Monica, Calif. "EAI turns traditional applications into relational applications, whereby you can slice similar information in different applications and bring it all together through one interface."EAI often is discussed interchangeably with middleware, but the new technology package is much broader in scope. It uses a framework that combines tools ? such as data transport, transformation, integration interfaces and business process support ? and services such as security, management, monitoring and object-model support.
Middleware acts as the linchpin technology for EAI, providing the necessary communication pipes among various applications.
But, as Craggs said, "middleware by itself is not very intelligent. But it is definitely a critical element, because it has to pass information and make sure that the information is delivered, and it has to be able to operate between different sorts of platforms."
A number of off-the-shelf products already are beginning to dominate the EAI middleware space. They include the MQ Series from IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y.; MS MQ from Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash.; and MessageQ from BEA Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif.
To provide even greater effectiveness, EAI vendors often supplement traditional middleware with a message broker, such as Mercator from TSI International Software Ltd., Wilton, Conn., and MQ Integrator from New Era of Networks Inc., Englewood, Colo., which can translate information between different middleware products.
"Rather than just being a dumb pipe that takes information from one end and delivers it to another, you've now got message-oriented middleware," Craggs said. "It now understands what the information format is on one end and what it is on the other, so it can automatically transform it."
In addition, users can apply business logic to the middleware and determine where data will be routed, what format is required and what specific events will trigger data movement.
Among the business process modeling tools available are COOL:Gen from Sterling Software Inc., Dallas, and LiveModel from IntelliCorp Inc., Mountain View, Calif.
"One of the problems with client-server, even today, is that a lot of the early client-server tools were built only to enable fat clients, and they were completely disconnected from all business model tools," said Doug Conley, a principal technologist with Sterling Software. "And that's why people have started to look toward thinner client approaches that allow them to have a smaller footprint of applications sitting on the desktop and the use of business modeling tools that enhance functionality."
Organizations also may add component-based computing to cut the amount of coding that needs to be generated to communicate across applications. This EAI element allows users to build a library of reusable objects, or chunks of application code.
For example, taxpayer information is an application component that is used by a number of agency departments. It could be turned into a single, reusable object residing on a central server that all departments could link up to through application integration.
Thus, a taxpayer would have to answer basic questions, such as address, Social Security number and date of birth, just once instead of once a year.
Component-based computing, provided by companies such as Active Software Inc., Santa Clara, Calif.; Candle Corp., and Vitrea Technology Inc., Mountain View, Calif., offers organizations dramatic productivity and reliability gains.
Because you can reuse those application objects, you do not have to maintain or test nearly as much coding.
Lastly, organizations can use EAI with work flow software and management tools to create seamless business processes.
"In the past, IT has tended to force the business side to fit in with what's possible," Craggs said. "With EAI, that's no longer the case. Business logic can now drive everything."
Several trends are propelling the market for enterprise application integration products and services, including the proliferation of Web technologies and the rapid growth of online commerce.
"It's the whole supply chain integration issue," Knickle said. "If someone wants to share information with a distribution partner, for example, and that information happens to come from multiple applications, then you're not going to be very efficient. So people are definitely eager to integrate their internal enterprise, so they can integrate with partners and have the entirety of their business processes automated."
EAI's promise of seamless, enterprisewide communication has organizations in the government and commercial arenas clamoring for information and implementations, despite the industry's relative immaturity.
"An awful lot of prospects have been coming to us and saying, 'We have a whole mess of technology here, a whole lot of applications that have been built using a variety of things in the past, and we're in dire need of a partner who can help us to understand and use them effectively,' " said Alan Brown, director of research for the application development division at Sterling Software.
For those customers, Sterling is trying to set them up with EAI partners and systems integrators who can look at their existing systems and use EAI tools to solve their interoperability issues.
Candle has found the federal government to be enthusiastic about EAI's potential. The company is consulting on several federal pilots, though for competitive reasons it refuses to identify them.
One buyer that has been vocal about EAI is the state of North Carolina. It is using Candle Corp.'s Roma EAI platform to overcome an environment of client-server-based, heterogeneous systems and to provide seamless, cross-platform integration.
The state's Information Resource Management group procured the solution, which allows, for example, personnel at the Wildlife Resources Commission to access personal data from driver's license records at the state transportation department and incorporate it into applications for hunting and fishing licenses. North Carolina's corrections department also is querying driver's license files, while its labor department is considering using the service to verify that workers are not minors.
"We consider Roma a common backbone that all departments can connect to," said Emilie Schmidt, the state's chief technology officer. She expects all 23 executive departments eventually will take advantage of the solution's EAI capabilities.
"Once an agency has published interfaces to the data, a programmer's only task is to determine whether his or her agency is authorized to use the data," she said.
In fact, state and local governments are fast becoming major users of EAI, although they tend to refer to it as component-based computing.
"We're trying to encourage the sharing of components across state government agencies, and EAI is really the best way to accomplish that," said Darrell Parrish, vice president of government services for MTW Corp., an application development and consulting firm in Mission Woods, Kan. "As a result, we are seeing quite a bit of interest in bringing together applications on the part of state governments as they try to bring common front ends to various legacy applications."Despite the fact that EAI is promoted as a packaged, off-the-shelf solution, systems integrators have a large role to play in its implementation.
The industry is chock-full of proprietary EAI tools that are sold individually and have to be incorporated into a larger EAI solution.
Still, EAI requires a different combination of skills, not the least of which is an in-depth knowledge of business function.
"I think the integrator will have an upfront role in coming in and doing a strategic analysis of your business to understand what is really required, what the business drivers are and what the customer is really trying to achieve," said Fadi Hindi, a project manager with Clarkston-Potomac Group Inc., a systems integrator based in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
Many large integrators, such as American Management Systems Inc., Fairfax, Va.; Andersen Consulting, New York; Computer Sciences Corp., El Segundo, Calif.; and Electronic Data Systems Corp., Plano, Texas, already have signed on as partners to major EAI vendors, Knickle said.
"Systems integrators are under a lot of pressure to go to the fixed cost, fixed price, fixed deliverable type of project, and that's because clients are increasingly saying, 'I'm not opening my checkbook for the rest of eternity. Find a way to do your job faster and at less expense to me, and get to the higher value stuff much more quickly,' " AMR's Knickle said.
"So, along comes this great opportunity to partner with an EAI vendor, learn that tool really well and move ahead," she said.
By Heather Hayes
The newest revolution in client-server circles is handheld devices.
In an attempt to disseminate critical corporate and agency data to employees no matter where they are, 3Com Palm Computing recently partnered with major database and application vendors, including Computer Associates, Oracle, Remedy, SAP and Sybase, to implement petite versions of their applications on 3Com's wireless Palm 7 handheld PC.
"This allows an organization to actually put real-time, interactive database interrogation into the hands of someone out in the field," said John Inkley, manager of federal sales for Palm Computing, Santa Clara, Calif. "So I can sit in downtown [Washington] or out in the middle of a plowed field in the Midwest and access the corporate database for sales reports, part numbers, inventory status, shipping records or telephone numbers."
Like other nodes on a client-server network, administrators easily can download upgrades to the handheld computer or do other maintenance activities. Unlike other clients, though, the handheld device requires a bit of customization.
"You don't want, or even necessarily need, all 1,000 database fields dumped into your handheld device," Inkley said. "So you do have to go in and say, OK, just give me fields one, five, 59 and 100. But it's not like you're having to run a completely different application out there."
Security ranks as another difference with this client, if only for the fact that the hand-size device easily can be misplaced.
The solution? The Palm 7 can be set up so that one false password entry wipes out all of its data.
Between its wireless capabilities and integration with leading application vendors, the Palm 7 and similar devices are quickly bringing about a new paradigm.
"They're no longer just pervasive as a data input and storage device; they've now become a tool for collecting and using data as well," Inkley said.