Lightweight middleware can bring hefty savings

BAT's integration project highlights the benefit of deploying lightweight products to handle comparatively simple tasks.

BAT's integration project highlights the benefit of deploying lightweight products to handle comparatively simple tasks.

These products can help IT deliver projects more quickly and cheaply than could be achieved through the use of full-blown enterprise application integration from mainstream suppliers. However, the benefits have a potentially high price tag because they add complexity to the IT infrastructure.

Butler Group analyst Tim Jennings said one problem with buying individual integration products to solve a single issue was its impact on integration across an enterprise.

Although it may be easy to run individual integration projects, users could create integration silos which are not easy to link together, he said.

Such a problem is less likely to occur with high-end integration middleware, according to Butler.

Gary Barnett, research director at analyst firm Ovum, said lightweight integration middleware was suitable when users needed integration without frills. However he said, "Users have too much technology already. Adding niche products makes [their IT] more complex."

Barnett said that although lightweight integration middleware may look attractive for a quick-and-easy win for the IT team, users needed to take a long-term view.

"Once middleware is in your IT system it is very hard to get rid of," he said.

The BAT integration strategy is built on a service-oriented architecture, which industry commentators regard as the next version of web services.

In a research paper looking at the value of service-orientated architectures, Forrester analyst Randy Heffner described service orientation as a critical design strategy for the future of enterprise applications in which functions within applications and business processes are treated as services that operate independently of each other.

A service-oriented architecture enables flexible systems that are easier to integrate and change, according to Forrester.

Butler Group has identified three types of IT integration available to users which build on the service-oriented model:

  • Suppliers such as Bea and IBM offer integration built into application servers and development platforms

  • The Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) from companies such as Sonic, SpiritSoft and Fiorano. Mainstream suppliers such as SeeBeyond, Tibco and WebMethods are also developing ESB-based products.

  • The dedicated hardware approach - the route taken by BAT with Cast Iron. Other suppliers providing dedicated hardware include Conformative, Layer7 and WestBridge.

Of the three types, Butler Group believes ESB holds the most promise for integration. In its view, ESB can be regarded as an information bus which uses XML to transfer data. Applications connect to this bus using adapters, which use web services protocols to put XML messages onto the bus.

In a report on ESB, Butler Group said users should see the cost of integration technology coming down.

However, to make the most of the cheap integration products, users would need to adopt an IT architecture based on the idea of a service-oriented architecture and an ESB.

The report urged users to demand rigorous adherence to standards from their suppliers. "We recommend that the most important areas to consider are web services protocols. Look for membership of the Web Services Interoperability Organisation and a commitment to issues including management and performance."

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