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No green fields for application integration

Application integration efforts cannot be built on a green field, but must leverage existing systems. This calls for a variety of middleware tools.

The essential trait of enterprise development has been the same for some time: There is rarely an opportunity to work with a new green-field application. Companies instead must focus their efforts on application integration that leverages existing systems. Often, the ''application developer'' could just as well be named the ''integration developer.'' That means they must learn to work with a variety of middleware tools.

Today, message queuing middleware appears as a very widely used integration method. But there are others. Forty-two percent of respondents cited message queuing as a method of application integration, according to The Reader Challenges & Priorities 2011-2012 Survey. Enterprise service buses (37%) and publish-and-subscribe middleware (35%) follow close behind. It is the increasingly heterogeneous nature of sources to be integrated that makes these and other types of middleware extremely valuable to the modern organization. Once, message queuing primarily was the province of banking systems – today its use is broader. It is even showing up in many Web 2.0 applications.

Figuring out middleware tool use is a complicated task. One type of tool seldom completely excludes use of another type. A well-known example is the enterprise service bus (ESB) - sometimes described as a ''Swiss Army Knife'' – which can incorporate several other middleware methods. The Reader Challenges & Priorities 2011-2012 Survey shows that messaging (51%) constitutes the major use case for the ESB, with orchestration and mediation gaining a close second at 46% according to survey respondents.

As recent user stories show, easier integration and greater flexibility are crucial. But the wide assortment of available tools heralds complexity - not easy integration. Used correctly, these tools can be powerful. A healthcare firm implements an ESB to unite disparate systems in order to present a single customer view, not only to call center staff, but also over the Web to the inquiring patient. For a state government, a consultancy builds a SOA-based componentized information system that can continually update an open source commercial rules engine to keep up with continually changing regulations. A paper manufacturer connects to cloud-based service in order to interoperate with a varied ecosystem of customers and trading partners.

The diversity of approaches requires a holistic approach.

Ken Vollmer, Forrester

Today, technology leaders look for software tools that tame integration complexity. At the same time, as their companies strive to be fleeter of foot, they look for more flexible integration platforms. And, as the speed of business increases, the speed of the middleware must keep up.

These drives are reflected in recent survey data. Survey respondents put ease of integration (65%), flexibility (54%) and scalability (43%) at the top of the list of important integration software attributes.

Holistic, agile integration

“The diversity of approaches requires a holistic approach,” said Ken Vollmer, analyst, Forrester Research. That means taking the steps to find a more complete style of integration.

Because the options and paths of integration are more diverse than ever, integration teams need to work more effectively with one another. That means application integration specialists must have at least some level of interfacing with business process and data integration specialists.

“A more holistic approach to integration starts with what currently exists in most organizations today - where you have silos of integration, expertise and knowledge,” said Vollmer. “Application integration, process integration and data [integration] are now typically covered with different teams and different tool sets.”

Vollmer said he sees these three integration styles coming together in terms of planning, strategy and implementation via centers of integration excellence, which are creating convergence at a high level according to Vollmer. New approaches to the integration practice will better support agile deployments, he said.

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This is probably why modern architectures evolve towards web services, REST, and other unified integration models. Legacy products are nightmare for integration testing.