LOS ANGELES -- As the industry continues to address the age-old problem of integration, the concept of the virtual enterprise is gaining momentum.
In a keynote presentation at the Gartner Web Services and Application Integration Summit here, analyst Roy Schulte provided some perspective on how far application integration has come in the last 15 years and what we can expect to see in the next five, including more movement toward virtualization.
"We're about halfway through the integration revolution," Schulte said. "Traditionally, we used to build applications first and do integration later. Now we think more systematically and strategically about our applications."
But while there has been a move away from monolithic application silos toward service-oriented architectures (SOAs), we are still getting stuck developing stovepipe applications, Schulte said. The only difference now is that they are SOA stovepipes.
"Just because your company's going toward SOA, that doesn't mean it's going toward composite applications," he said. "SOA can be done in a very advanced way or in a very primitive way."
The primitive way usually results in what Gartner refers to as archipelagos of integration, where companies may end up with multiple integration backbones that need to talk to one another.
For instance, one business unit in a company might have put in place an SOA that ties together a JBoss application server and an SAP portal. Meanwhile, another business unit may have implemented its entire application on the BEA stack. The two business units now need to talk to one another, creating SOA fragmentation.
Although a company may have a redundancy of applications and integration tools, the boundaries have become more porous, enabling us to create a virtual view of all these systems, Schulte said.
Creating this single, unwavering view of an enterprise system is the advanced way of doing SOA.
Virtualization enables complex heterogeneous systems to appear as one cohesive application and occurs on four different levels: the enterprise, the application, the database and the hardware layers.
While virtualization at the enterprise level focuses on transcending the legal boundaries between companies, the other layers focus on things like federating multiple physical databases into a single view or balancing resources across multiple CPUs.
"Using soft wires instead of hard wires is what enables this virtualization," Schulte added. "Applications are now being built to integrate. You build them in a modular fashion so that you can change their soft wiring to produce a new business process."
Schulte added that we have always had different products and platforms in enterprise systems and that heterogeneity will never really go away. This is because software, data, process and object models all use different technologies and are separately owned and managed.
The challenge doesn't lie in getting rid of heterogeneity, but in creating an "insulation" layer between the service and delivery layers to eliminate point-to-point communications between the client and server stacks, Schulte said.
The enterprise nervous system (ENS), which provides this insulation or integration layer, intelligently combines the delivery channel, comprised of portals, Web servers and multi-channel gateways with the service channel, comprised of enterprise application servers.
One of the key enablers of this insulation layer is the Enterprise Service Bus, which analysts are touting as the next generation application container.
According to Shulte, as companies move toward the virtual enterprise, they need to design their large applications as modular business components (services) and to employ a three-layer application architecture, comprised of a delivery, service and an integration or ENS layer.
In addition to this, companies need to create a full-time integration competency center to manage the virtual ENS, its associated business processes and service meta data, he said.