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Application-to-application (A2A) integration best practices considered

Changes in the enterprise integration landscape are afoot as application-to-application integration again gets attention. Gartner's Massimo Pezzini discusses issues and shares tips.

While enterprise application integration remains an age-old challenge, new issues and technology are driving organizations...

to take a different approach. Specifically, the emergence of software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing, SOA, the widespread use of open source and the melding of application-to-application (A2A) and business-to-business (B2B) markets have all impacted how enterprises think about application infrastructure for what Gartner calls “systematic application integration” projects. Gartner defines those projects as ones that “are intended for an extended period of use, carry advanced service-level requirements and typically have an impact on the overall information context of the business organization.”

First and foremost, said Gartner’s Massimo Pezzini, vice president and distinguished analyst, and co-author of the October 2010 report, “Magic Quadrant for Application Infrastructure for Systematic Application Integration Projects,” while the problem remains the same, customer behavior is changing. Today, he said, “customers look at A2A and B2B as two sides of the same coin, and when they look for vendors, they try to find [solutions] that support both scenarios.”

This is a change that has occurred over the last few years, he said. Previously, these types of projects were separate, as were the solutions. A2A projects were the domain of the IT department, with solutions coming from enterprise application integration (EAI) and middleware vendors. B2B projects were more the domain of the logistics or supply chain management teams, using B2B integration products. “At the end of the day, the technology and the issues are similar, and we see organizations looking at those two aspects in a holistic fashion, with teams merging.”

The market has also consolidated, with mergers and acquisitions, and the remaining A2A vendors expanding their infrastructure to include B2B integration, and B2B vendors expanding to add A2A functionality.

According to the Gartner report, “…at the technology level, B2B integration technology has much in common with middleware for A2A integration, including communications, transformation, adapters and orchestration features. For that reason, organizations are shifting toward establishing best practices that create a unified approach for A2A and B2B integration.”

Pezzini said organizations are also adding open source integration products to the mix. He said for small to midsize organizations and local governments, for example, integration platforms from the larger vendors are expensive and complex, and “for many, overkill.” Also, he said large enterprises that have established high-end solutions in house are bringing in open source “as a second option when addressing less complex or demanding scenarios.”

Finally, he said, organizations are grappling with how to integrate cloud and SaaS solutions with on-premises applications. Cloud integration has “both classic A2A and classic B2B characteristics, he said. “There are some vendors that specialize in cloud integration, but it’s the same kind of technology under the covers as any traditional integration platform, with adapters and connectors for SaaS packages.”

But the expectations for cloud integration are different than for classic A2A and B2B projects, he said, with organizations focused on productivity and rapid deployment. “In the cloud they’re not willing to wait months and months for getting up and running with SaaS. The expectation from customers is of very rapid plug-and-play integration; they don’t want to wait several months to get started because of having to integrate it with, say, SAP.”

So for organizations evaluating or re-evaluating systematic integration projects, Pezzini offers this advice:

Talk to your current vendors. “If you have a good experience with the established vendors in house, look into their offerings and see how they can expand their infrastructure by incrementally adding components.”

Consider complementary products. “In some cases you may need to look to other vendors to complement and extend, say for SOA governance. Not all vendors have good and strong SOA governance.

Make integration more comprehensive. “From an organizational perspective most enterprises have an integration competency center, which provides expertise and skills for integration. The task has expanded to become more comprehensive; you have to deal with B2B in addition to A2A.”

Be proactive about SOA integration. “[Organizations] may need to take a proactive role when it comes to SOA integration and SOA governance. Organizations are more the driving force for this initiative rather than it remaining with a team of developers or engineers; you need an expanded scope, and help for the business side of the house.”

Think more broadly. “Increasingly, we see those A2A/B2B/cloud integration [initiatives] being part of a broader initiative; in the context of BPM, as an example. It becomes an important aspect for the integration competency center to be involved and support an initiative in BPM, which is typically a business initiative.


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