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Integration Innovation: the future!

April 13, 2011
OK so leading on from yesterday, how should we integrate in future? Well hopefully from the history lesson you can see that problems breed innovation, so to predict the future we need to look at the problems we experience today. SOA is great, but the time-to-value (TTV) can be long, and the implementation can be risk-laden. The impetus needs to come from the top. If the C-level isn’t bought in, it won’t fly. SOA only works when it is architected as part of an EA strategy, or something similar. You really need to understand the business, data, and the current technology and applications portfolio, and where the business wants to go in future in order to make it work. The concept of SOA means that you invest effort up front to be agile later on. Sometimes this (or rather, the investment) just does not ring true with customers, which is fine; there will always be customers who do not want the rolls royce solution when all they really need is a scooter. SOA is not a solution for a company who just want application A to talk to application B, and sometimes you can get a huge amount of value from a relatively small but meaningful single integration. More on that in a later blog entry!

SOA, whilst a great innovation, still requires binding between consumer and provider (what used to be called client and server – the reason we changed this is because the notion of client and server had just become roles, with a given system sometimes a client and sometimes a server). We still have a relatively inflexible structure, that whilst it is more agile than before, and certainly more agile than a point-to-point architecture communication model, still forces consumers to ask providers for information, and in the format they can cope with. There might be a hundred consumers all competing for the attention of the provider.

Wouldn’t it be nice if providers could just tell the consumers when things happen that they might be interested in? As architectures become more node-intensive (such as the mobile networks) it is far more sensible to loosely bind consumers and providers. Rather than having tight binding between application A and application B, or device A and server B (and the maintenance that goes with managing that relationship) invert the control from consumer to provider. Providers broadcast updates, and candidate consumers ‘listen in’, using the contextual information contained within each update to determine its relevance. Providers need not just be software applications, and the dynamic nature of consumption may not require every update to be captured and handled, perhaps only trends and patterns in update aggregates (see IBM InfoSphere Streams for some really cool stuff here). This model suits well for situations where there are massive numbers of consumers or providers (or indeed both), or for where individuals may come into and disappear out of existence dynamically.

The integration model closest to this currently is eventing, although as yet we do not have a well-adopted common and open schema for event format. Common Event Infrastructure (CEI) is moving towards this, and works well for IBM software applications (WebSphere, Tivoli) and some devices, but this is an IBM proprietary format.

Future application of this concept could include nanotech, where myriad nano-devices could behave as providers or consumers of volumes of information in small payloads; or perhaps WANs with in-field devices similarly acting as providers and consumers as appropriate. In fact this is not future, it is happening now. A major european city mass transit system already uses this model for tracking and dashboarding dynamic information about its rolling stock in transit; and there is some very interesting work going on at IBM Hursley with the WebSphere micro technologies.

More soon 🙂

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