Sunday, November 19, 2006

SOA - webMethods

Till recently webMethods Inc provided two classes of integration tools, for B2B and EAI as separate product sets, which were mutually-exclusive. With the release of 6.x, a common platform for all the integration needs was provided.

Trading Networks™ (B2B tool) hosted in the Integration Server™ could directly link itself with Broker™ (message bus), which was not the case as before; thus helping orchestrate Models™ (Business processes) during runtime.

Version 6.x (v6.0.1 to be exact) laid the roots for SOA enablement, with a tool called ServiceNet and by default all the internal FLOW™/JAVA™ services were made available as web services. Of course, there were some issues with stability of v6.01 and v6.1.5 due to “composite” enterprise approach, which were stabilized by v6.5.

During Integration World 2006, hosted by webMethods, it was announced that Beta version of webMethods 7.0 would be released by Dec 15, while the GA is by mid-March. There was a major emphasis on the “Composite Enterprise Approach” with many tools performing focused-enterprise-tasks thrown in to the enterprise Fabric™. Tools like Optimize™ (BAM), Portal™ (B2C), Manager™ (BAM once again, but with heavy client) are all stabilized and rolled in to Fabric™.

The current way the Fabric™ is defined is very interesting -A weaver of all the Processes, Services, and Business Rules via web services into a Fabric for Enterprise. [As different threads when kneaded together gives a cloth (Fabric) of choice.]

The major themes of the event [Integration World 2006] apart from release of v7.x were SOA Governance and BPM.

Recently webMethods acquired Infravio, a SOA Registry and Governance tools company; adding the X-Broker and X-Registry features to its product suite from v7.x. For the starters X-Broker provides the intermediately/mediation services and policy enforcer in run time, while X-Registry provides the design time, change time governance. Obviously, the ServiceNet suite of products is deprecated and customers using the same are now automatically upgraded to Infravio suite.

Talking of SOA, security is always a concern/question. The good news from webMethods product suite is – there is support for WS-Security, SAML and X-509 tokens “out-of-box”. There was an interesting discussion during the focus group meeting as to how much of ‘out-of-box’ is their out-of-box. [Many can recollect that the migration tools for migrating EDI from Gentran/TLE etc were also out-of-box]

The Focus Group Discussion also provided an insight into what CIOs from the customers, SI representatives and Partners had to say about the SOA and Integration issues in webMethods context. Though there was nothing much to write home about, a glimpse at the most widely discussed topic during the discussion is worth mentioning here.

- What do you think of the greatest hindrance to SOA in your organization?

i. A majority of the CIOs felt that the buy-in from business was the most difficult one. Businesses have been spending on IT, only to bridge that “gap” between systems and business dynamics. Now all agreed that business is skeptical about the SOA hype-cycle.

ii. The ownership and governance issues were rated the next biggest hurdle. True. Who is going to own which services? Else again everyone ends up where they started, multiple service providers for same set of services. Governance is definitely an issue, which is not technical, but organizational, which definitely was beyond the CIO’s purview.

iii. The definition or the border lines to demarcate where services should stop being coarse grained, so that the existing infrastructure can be leveraged. The same question was also asked a decade ago, when Object-Oriented approach took the enterprise by storm. How much of logic to abstract, how much to define in code?

iv. Finally it was the tool-enablement. Though the majority of the tools in the enterprise ecosystem were not their respective current versions [meaning not SOA-enabled] everyone was optimistic about a turnaround soon.

In general CIOs were not in a mood to be the first movers and were eager to know if someone else has done something in that space. The group was eager to take back any implementer’s learning, for helping the approval process from business for their own SOA initiatives. Unfortunately there were none in the group, who had any real-time experience.

It was TCS who made some comments in discussion that their SOLAR framework was best for SOA enablement; but they too did not have any live enterprise to showcase, save for a few POCs here and there. There would be interesting times ahead for all industry observers watching how webMethods can live up to the promises made about SOA.

There was an informative tidbit when someone said Integration Server™, itself was an ESB and one need not invest in buying a third party tool.

When all FLOW™ or JAVA™ are by default web-services and these services can internally invoke any business process, business rule or perform data translation/transformation services. As these services are hosted in Integration Server™ - by standard definitions of ESB, IS™ becomes an ESB.

Moving further into composite enterprise, from v7.x there would not be any technical differences between human-dependant business flows and normal business flow. It may be recollected that in v6.x and before, there were two tools to handles these two variants of business flow. The human dependant business processes were called WorkFlow™ with a separate server to help the users to login and work on the staged business process at their levels, while the normal business processes were called Models™ hosted on PRT-module of Integration Server™. This invariably had to be designed in two different design tools called Modeler™ and WorkFlow Designer™.

The distinction would be dissolved with Designer™ 7.x of webMethods. Both these genres of business processes are now hosted in PRT-module for runtime and are designed in a single design time tool Designer™. This design time tool has an Eclipse™ interface. The good news stops here, as one still needs the Developer™ for developing FLOW™/JAVA™ services.

This meager would help development and implementation of the complex business processes in a single view and also to avoid redundancy on the pieces of code used.

One thing that stuck out the most was the fact that told over and over ‘40% of webMethods customers were SAP™ customers’. Also SAP™ was positioned well in the overall event, with a separate technical track session to showcase the way webMethods can blend itself into SAP™ based Enterprise. Someone there murmured that the future Integration World event may be a separate track sessions in Sapphire event.


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