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7/5/2007
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Two Ways To Deal With SOA's Data Integration Challenge

Service-oriented architecture blurs distinctions between data and apps; integrating the results is what matters.

ANOTHER WAY
Not everyone is a fan of the iWay approach to integrating data across services. "I have always been somewhat skeptical," says ZapThink's Schmelzer, because it is too close to the old application-to-application integration of yesteryear, where each connection has to be set up individually and is inflexible.

Services need to be architected so that they yield data that can be consumed by various applications, although iWay's Service Manager manages much of that task. Companies also need to be able to change how data is presented without altering the service interface. IWay, however, often requires an interface for each presentation rather than producing data that can be easily used across all of them, Schmelzer says.

An alternate way to integrate data across Web services is provided by open source and proprietary products. Open source Jitterbit can take an application message, transform it into XML, and map and deliver it to a target system over the Web. It relies on Web standards and an ability to transform data between systems. Apatar and Talend have similar open source products. DataDirect and MetaMatrix have proprietary ones, though MetaMatrix is being acquired by Red Hat, and its products will become part of open source JBoss.

Data Integration Balance Sheet
  Across Services Using Connectors, Adapters
Upside Data served to different devices or user formats without affecting service

Data source can change without changing service logic
Uses familiar adapters, connectors

Straightforward, familiar implementation
Downside Can slow operations

Requires data presentation be kept separate from data retrieval
Integration doesn't happen inside services

Changes to data require more programming

Open source Apatar is being evaluated by AutoDesk, which makes computer-aided design and engineering software. It also offers collaborative construction project management in the form of software as a service that integrates data through a Web portal for the contractors on a project. Major construction projects can involve 40 or more contractors.

AutoDesk's offering uses Apatar as the integration agent, says Jason Pratt, technical services manager for collaborative project management. Apatar can map data between systems and take advantage of Web services to export data to business partners. It can perform extract, transform, and load functions between systems so that two companies that have not built point-to-point connectors can still arrange to share each other's data. And unlike custom-built point-to-point connectors, Apatar connection code relying on Web standards doesn't require testing to ensure that it will work, says Renat Khasanshyn, founder and CEO.

A typical transformation through the Autodesk service would have the JD Edwards accounting system of one contractor exporting data into the scheduling system of another, so different aspects of the job can be executed on schedule.

Apatar provides "the plumbing for all the data, a pipeline from one system to another, like Legos," Pratt says. It's a great way to to get more flexibility without building middleware, he adds.

Take your pick. IWay and other vendors have adapted point-to-point connectivity to the services world. And now open source products are making it possible to integrate data at a higher level across services. Whichever way you go, you're closer to implementing a successful SOA.

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