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Standardizing business integration with JBI

Integration technologies are expensive and often tie you into a proprietary solution. Additionally, customers often have to rely on more than one vendor to meet their integration needs. Ron Ten-Hove's group at Sun Microsystems was working on a service-oriented integration product when they realized that the industry needed something more than just another integration product: It needed a standard.

The Java Business Integration (JBI) specification aims to eliminate vendor lock-in by providing a standard container in which components from multiple vendors and various integration technologies can interact. In this interview, Ten-Hove, who is specification lead for JBI, takes a closer look at JBI and describes a typical JBI implementation using a purchase order example.

Can you talk a bit about your role at Sun Microsystems your involvement with the JBI Java Specification Request (JSR) 208?
I'm a senior staff engineer at Sun, working in the Java Web Services, integration products group. My group is responsible for Sun's integration server products (for EAI and B2B). I'm also one of Sun's representatives on the OASIS WS-BPEL [Web services Business Process Execution Language] technical committee.

I was involved with JSR 208 before it was even submitted to the Java Community Process. I was initially Sun's member of the expert group, when it was formed in mid-2003. I became co-spec lead of the JSR eight months ago, along with Peter Walker [also of Sun].

Ron Ten-Hove
What is the JBI specification?
The JBI specification is a standard for what can be called a "container of containers." It describes the architecture and behavior of a framework that hosts plug-in components, and allows them to interact using a WSDL [Web Services Description Language] 2.0-based messaging system, using WSDL's services model. The goal is to allow users to obtain plug-in components that provide all the functions needed to provide an integration solution, without getting locked into a particular vendor. Components will be portable between JBI implementations.

The plug-in components can be almost anything. A few examples are: EJB [Enterprise JavaBeans] containers, BPEL4WS [Business Process Execution Language for Web Services] business process engines, XSLT [Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation] transformation engines, SOAP protocol adapters and EDI [electronic data interchange] protocol adapters. The JBI specification seeks to not impose limits on what components can do, but instead defines a crisp, service-oriented view of all components, allowing them to interact without regard to the underlying implementation. For example, a BPEL4WS business process engine component can use a wide variety of communications protocols, without having specific knowledge of any of them.

Where does JBI fit in to the spectrum of other business integration specifications?
JBI is, by design, very well aligned with the major Web services specifications, especially BPEL4WS. The JBI messaging model is based on WSDL, as is BPEL. A BPEL engine fits very naturally into a JBI environment, with other components providing things like SOAP bindings, and the JBI host itself the connective "plumbing" to allow the BPEL engine to use SOAP in a loosely coupled fashion.

Can you provide a scenario of how Java 2 Enterprise Edition developers will leverage JBI in real-world applications?
J2EE developers can use JBI to access a wide variety of integrated services, and expose existing J2EE components as services as needed.

This creates many possibilities. For example, EJBs can be "composed" into stateful business processes, using process languages like BPEL. This helps the J2EE developer by allowing him to write business processes using BPEL, rather than embedding the process logic into Java code.

The benefits to J2EE developers [and Java developers in general] are really a function of the services provided by the plug-in components. A document transformation engine will give the J2EE developer access to its services. A communications protocol adaptor component will give the J2EE developer access to that protocol.

More importantly, the J2EE developer can design his applications without specific knowledge of how such services are provided. The connections between service providers and consumers are made at run-time, not design-time.

Lastly, JBI provides the infrastructure and architectural underpinning for migrating to service-oriented architecture. By shifting from creating applications to creating and using services, JBI provides developers with a practical means of realizing the benefits of an SOA.

Can you describe the structure of what a typical JBI container would look like?
A typical example that I use consists of the following components:

  • A BPEL4WS business process engine, which provides stateful business process management. BPEL is a good language for doing service orchestration: performing a set task by sequencing service invocations according to business logic.
  • An XSLT transformation engine, which provides a set of XML-to-XML transformation services enabling schema changes. For example, there are several existing purchase order XML formats used in the industry, and it is often necessary to convert from one format to another.
  • A WS-I Basic Profile 1.1 compliant binding component, providing SOAP communications in two directions: outbound, invoking external service providers, and inbound, where external clients invoke services that our example system provides.
  • An AS2 (applicability statement 2, and IETF-defined EDI protocol) binding component, providing inbound and outbound EDI messaging.
  • A JMS binding component.
How would components in a JBI container interact with one another? Can you describe a typical business use case?
The BPEL engine hosts many business process types, including a purchasing process that allows external customers to submit purchase orders, and receive resulting ship notices, invoices, etc. The process itself will contain "initiating activities" that, upon receiving a new purchase order, will create a new process instance. The PO is received by a means of a service offered by the BPEL engine. Of course, BPEL doesn't know (or care) about the protocol used to deliver the PO; it just cares about the XML received.

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In this example, purchase orders can be received by three separate means: SOAP, AS2, and JMS, each of which we have one binding component for. Customers can choose which protocol they wish to use. When a protocol component receives a request, it converts it to a normalized form (a normal representation of an XML message, conformant to abstract WSDL), plus message meta data such as security information, transaction identifiers, etc.) and passes it to JBI. JBI determines which component should supply the desired service, and passes the normalized message along to (in this case) the BPEL engine, which will create a new process instance as just mentioned.

If the process needs to transform the received PO to a canonical format, it invokes a transformation service. Again, JBI will determine which component provides the needed service, and route the request to our XSLT engine, and the response (the transformed PO) back to the BPEL engine.

The next step in the business process is to check the customer's credit worthiness. The BPEL engine constructs a normalized request, which JBI will route to a suitable service provider, in this case the SOAP binding component. This will form a SOAP request, and send it to the external credit agency we are using to do credit checks. The response is normalized by the SOAP binding component, and JBI returns the response to the BPEL engine.

The process continues with more steps for checking inventory, fulfilling the order, arranging shipping, sending ship notices and finally invoicing the customer. The main points are:

  • The BPEL engine, as a consumer and provider of services, deals only with normalized (abstract) messages and abstract service names.
  • JBI normally determines which component provides a service (although "smart" components can make this choice if they want to).
  • Normalized messages are protocol-neutral.
What are some products/tools that will support this specification?
It is anticipated that software vendors that are members of the JSR 208 expert group will add JBI support to their current product offerings (such as application servers and integration suites), as well as offer a variety of components for use with JBI.

Design-time tooling is important, to configure components to perform their individual services and tasks. Components will obviously be provided with appropriate tooling.

When do you expect the JSR to be ratified and what version of J2EE will it ship in?
There is no current plan to incorporate JBI in J2EE 5.0. If JBI does become part of J2EE, it would have to be part of 6.0 or later.

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