Flashline Inc. today announced new automation features for its namesake registry/repository designed to automatically populate, track and update metadata for Web services and other assets in SOA implementations, particularly with Microsoft Visio architectural diagrams.
Noting that among his customers Microsoft's Visio is the favored tool architects use for designing SOA implementations, said Flashline CEO Charles Stack. "We built a plug-in using the open API within Visio, so you can submit the Visio diagram into the Flashline repository."
Once the Visio diagram is in the repository, Flashline "introspects" the Visio diagram to look at relationships to Web services and other assets as they have been diagramed, he said. The relationships are then represented in metadata thus providing online documentation for the SOA project.
To explain what he considers the significance of this feature, Stack tells an anecdote based on a recent visit to a customer site.
"I was at a large governmental agency that had built a very complex enterprise architecture," he said. "They were very impressed with it. I asked if I could see it. They turned around and reached down from a bookshelf over their head, this thousand page volume of diagrams and charts. That was how they accessed it. Enterprise architecture that people can't get to just isn't useful."
The Flashline automated introspection allows architects to publish their Visio diagram via the repository. It is then accessible via Web browser to both business and IT people in the enterprise and they do not need to have Visio or know it, Stack said.
Also part of the release, BPEL introspection into Flashline provides similar accessibility throughout an enterprise for viewing the business processes involved in an SOA.
"BPEL is an XML file and inside it are two key things," Stack explained. "There's a logic script that orchestrates a series of Web services and then there are a series of Web services, called partner links. Each one of those Web services provides more granular functionality in a sequence controlled by the BPEL script. What this tells us is there is a business process with a certain name, created by a certain somebody, and that process consists of smaller grained services. What we can now do is go find those services automatically, look at the methods available in those services and push all of that metadata automatically into Flashline."
The end product is a diagram that can be viewed on any authorized user's PC screen and it is "navigable, clickable and zoomable," the Stack said.
"You can look at it and see this business process is comprised of these Web services," he said. "You can zoom in and get more metadata on a particular service or process. The schemas that represent the data that's being used by these services is also being linked into this logical representation. So you can, really at a glance, start to see all the moving pieces of an orchestrated Web service invocation."
Stack said that when he shows this feature to architects he usually gets "a little gasp."
"People talk about how a service-oriented architecture creates a web of interaction between a variety of different services," he said "This is a way to graphically view that and navigate it on a screen."
Stack is touting the automated harvesting and updating of metadata in Flashline, which supports both Java and .NET development, as a way to help organizations that are starting their first SOA projects as well as those IT organizations who may building Web services, but don't have a good way of seeing what they already have.
Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst ZapThink LLC, said the new Flashline automation features could be helpful, but it is too early to tell how Stack's approach will fair in the emerging SOA registry/repository market.
"I could easily see how Flashline's new automation and harvesting capabilities could be quite useful for companies who are building SOA implementations," the analyst said. "Only the market will tell, however, if customers will favor Flashline's approach over, say, the business user-centered change time capabilities of Infravio X-Registry or the policy lifecycle support in Systinet Registry."
Bloomberg also notes that Flashline is not alone in offering harvesting technology.
"Flashline is also following somewhat in the footsteps of Software AG and Fujitsu's CentraSite, which also harvests Web Services for inclusion into composite applications," the analyst said. "The challenge for all of these vendors is that customer requirements are a moving target, as enterprises are still putting together the pieces of a successful SOA plan."