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EAI – What is it?
EAI – Enterprise Application Integration. Currently the toast of the consulting classes, replacement to ERP, the new universal IT panacea.
As with everything else there is a glint of gold in this but you do have to dig hard to find it.
There are a wide variety of so called EAI solutions.
As with all IT, the only way that an EAI solution will work for you, is if your IT system currently works for you.
EAI is not a magic bullet. It will not recreate your business process making it bigger, better, and easy to use. If your system already has problem areas, it will help make them bigger and better and easier to see. That’s why senior management is interested in it. It can quickly and easily debundle the information hierarchies and fiefdoms that some Managers & Department heads have created to enhance their own position.
EAI at its most basic level is the integration of dissimilar application systems to share information from them via a common user interface
The main goal of EAI should be to move towards achieving a “Zero Latency Enterprise” situation or an enterprise API.
(Gartner Group report Sept 1999)
The traditional way this has been approached is via middleware, which when deployed can connect applications and systems together, but can be unaware of other similar transactions taking place with in the same IT environment.
This approach can give rise to problems or restrictions actually caused by the integration method itself.
This philosophy is alien to the basic under-pinning of EAI which is not a point to point style solution, but one which focuses on the holistic needs of the enterprise business process, and then acts as an ‘honest’ information broker.
Thus we can see that really EAI is not a new area, Middleware solutions have been around for many years. It is really a new way of looking at an old problem.
These provide a point to point link between system A and system B – Any other integration need or link may complicate this process and may indeed render it inoperable.
To add insult to injury, with a restricted middleware approach, changes to systems which enable the interaction of information sharing may require alterations to both Source and Target systems. This can make the whole process complex, time consuming and often dooms it to failure.
Continuing use of traditional middleware solutions can create complex point to point linkages, which resemble poorly planned plumbing with no central control and negligible management.
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EAI does not work this way – It is a hub and spoke system, which centrally controls and manages all the system interactions.
1. EAI systems are directed towards integration at (user) business level - This can include all business processes and data processes
2. EAI methods reuse and fully distribute all applicable business processes and data
3. EAI methods need no real understanding of the specific system functions to integrate the applications. This is due to EAI technology’s focus on the understanding of the user side of the application and requires no system knowledge.
4. EAI technology does not require source code or code administration rights to any of the target applications.
5. EAI technology generally requires no changes to the existing hardware infrastructure.
Diagrams showing Enterprise Chaos and Enterprise order – Chaos illustrating the ‘poor plumbing’ shown in traditional middleware style solutions. Order showing the ‘hub and spoke’ control and order imposed by the use of EAI
Both diagrams are borrowed from Enterprise Application Integration by David S. Linthicum
These are incorporated into a single diagram in the conspectus article.
Enterprise Application Integration comes in a wide variety of flavours and the method of interaction with the legacy host system is the best way to divide the approaches. (Do a web search on EAI and see what you get)
The main methods of interaction fall into two areas:-
1. Invasive Methods – These involve direct interaction with the Legacy system, or the target application at a source level.
This can be useful if changes and enhancements to the business logic are proposed.
There can occasionally be operational issues with the existing application or other integration issues concerned with the Legacy system itself.
Generally looked apon as a higher risk strategy.
2. Non Invasive Methods – These establish an interaction with the system generally via a direct terminal link.
Will not cause operational issues and are of excellent value if the existing legacy application is currently meeting all operational needs.
Least operational risk.
Types of EAI – Or how EAI is realised
There are two main ways of realising EAI
1. Data Level
Data interaction – Nearly always the entry-level route towards EAI – This is the use of a central core Data store which is the single repository of all application information with in the organisation.
Thus any data can be accessed and used by any application that is able to speak to the core Data repository. Numerous packages exist to enable the data in this way creating Data Universes and Sub sets to make the task of interacting with these frequently very large Databases easier. This approach called Data Warehousing and using OLAP based techniques to ‘slice and dice’ the data is currently the end goal of many MIS directors.
Main problems with this approach is the complexity and size of some of these projects.
Searching a few thousand-gigabyte size database can take quite some time. Testing an integrated database of this size and magnitude can also be a horrific task best suited to convicts rather than contractors.
2.Business Model Level
This can be further subdivided into :-
Application Interface – Applications nowadays are in reality a set of services and information that add value to other applications – Application Systems no longer stand-alone. This is why Bill Gates is one of the richest men in the world.
An Application’s COM Interfaces allow applications to talk together.
Using Microsoft as the example ActiveX (COM the Component object model).
This architecture allows Windows applications to share services and information.
Where this applies to EAI is the extension of Legacy systems to delivering COM objects, which then can be utilised by the Windows applications.
In this way Legacy Data can be displayed on the Internet using Windows technology.
Methodology – Method Level
Allows the integration of the system via the sharing of common business logic. This is undertaken by defining the methods that can be shared or by providing the infrastructure for this to occur, (distributed objects). Using the Microsoft example (DCOM the Distributed Component object model)
This is the accessing of the legacy information via the user interface of the application. This method although in some ways inefficient is often the easiest approach as it requires no changes to the source or target application and such is the purest form of the Non invasive methods.
In this quick outline hopefully some information has been given into the Methods and techniques that comprise an EAI solution.
At the core of EAI is the need to share and manage information. The methods of doing this as can be seen are complex and varied.
The driving focus of any EAI approach should be to extend useful information to all and to avoid information islands and bottle necks.
EAI the Future XML?
As I have shown – the key to any EAI mechanism is to control and distribute information through out the enterprise and to manage this activity.
One currently much hyped solution might hold the key.
XML (eXtended Mark up Language) – currently means many things to many people. Most of the confusion centers on what XML is. It must be remembered that XML is a specification and not a technology.
It is a subset of SGML (Standard Generalised Mark up Language). XML redefines some of the internal values while removing a lot of the complexity. Mainly using SGML’s document definition types.
Where XML differs from HTML (Hyper Text Mark up Language) is in its ability to handle context and dynamic behaviour information where as HTML only is able to display information.
This has outstanding opportunities for use in EAI applications where a single data standard could be defined with in a industry or market which would allow all defined information to be shared with out any understanding of what, when or who at the client end.
A single unified schema to allow any application or database to share its information to any user interface across any platform.
This must represent the EAI ‘Holy Grail’ and currently shows a lot of promise. The government has recently approved the BASDA financials XML schema.
Where the problems lie is in the definition of proprietary XML schema that are forced into markets or on to users with out their information layouts being available to enable interaction with all possible software application that are XML enabled.
We stand the risk of several XML schema being developed and then taken up and it’s all then back to the bad old days of closed systems.
Technology Of EAI – Nuts and Bolts of what goes on
The basics of EAI can be broken down into the following areas:-
 Business data provider - This is a mechanism for providing data to the application programmer. This is a high level component which shields the developer from having to know anything about where the data is coming from or how the data is retrieved.
 Business rules - This component allows the EAI application to control such things as synchronisation issues, validation and data conversion e.g. handling non Y2K dates.
 Data mapping - This component allows the mapping of data from a screen or e-mail or http source to be mapped into fields that can be used by the high level business components.
 Navigation - This is concerned with describing the route to the data. This covers screen navigation but would also cover retrieving data via e-mail etc.
 Data translation - This allows data which is held in one format to be converted to another format e.g. name in application may be held in a single field whilst the new EAI application wants this presented as First Name, Last Name.
Andrew Green - IBT
This article was originally published in Conspectus IT Magazine issue No: EAI Techniques Summer 1999
The services IBT has historically offered have always tended towards
what is now commonly known as EAI. More recently IBT have been
working towards providing EAI solutions that will compliment and work
alongside emerging products in the 'EAI space' by utilising technologies
such as XML and Messaging systems.
IBT have been in existence since 1999 initially providing Software
consultancy and bespoke development services.