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Integration services create new application

Streamlining integration services reduces IT development and opens the door for citizen integrators to roll out new applications.

Enterprise architects are starting to appreciate that by streamlining their integration architectures they can...

reduce IT development and take advantage of cloud infrastructure. This opens the door for citizen integrators within an enterprise to roll out new applications with less of a burden on IT. To address this need, many enterprises are creating an integration service layer that meets governance, risk and compliance needs.

This means that developers don't have to worry about the transportation layer when rolling out new applications, said James Curran, senior project manager at Channel 4 in the U.K. They can write a Web service to support the business, and use the integration service to do the heavy lifting. "This approach allows us to concentrate more on the business layers, rather than worrying about the transportation layer," Curran noted.

Taking the leap

Channel 4 took the leap in building out this integration service layer using a MuleSoft Mule ESB service. "Legacy systems were becoming brittle due to them being bent into a position that they weren't designed for, thus increasing maintenance costs," Curran said. "Once the decision was taken to develop a new commercial system, our informed architects persuaded us to start adopting a service-orientated approach to system design."

Initially, Channel 4 used the service integration layer to improve integration for disaster recovery and for improving the business use of its in-house broadcast management system, which deals with commissioning, scheduling, rights, transmissions managing media and a host of other business activity. Channel 4 was about to implement point-to-point integration via Web services when it realized that a service integration backbone would be more efficient, and would allow business managers to better implement their own business applications.

Set up different types of teams

Curran recommends that organizations undertaking similar projects use automation to set up continuous integration, environment builds and deployment processes that aid in the development cycle. This provides a conveyor belt of change that is well-managed and version-controlled.

It is also important to establish best practices guidelines so that different development teams are using the integration layer in a consistent manner and are sharing components. Creating a dedicated integration ops team can also help in discussing and dissecting operations and support issues in order to share lessons learned across the organization. In addition, Channel 4 established a Mule Integration Peer Group that includes key stakeholders, the architects, the infrastructure team and project managers to discuss challenges faced and prescribe a correct course of action.

New efficiency brings new problems

Even though the architecture as a whole is more efficient, it has been challenging for Channel 4's developers to fully embrace because they have been used to point-to-point integration. But after writing a few applications that communicate through the integration service, they are starting to see the incredible power of the platform and can concentrate on core business processes. This has increased the efficiency of the development lifecycle, and Curran sees that continuing.

It is also a good practice to develop an effective monitoring system for the integration hub that can track new kinds of metrics like queue depth and persistence, Curran said. "We learned the hard way, but we did learn. Now if any issues happen, we are alerted quickly."

Rethink the API

Organizations need to create APIs so they can talk to their constituents, including partners, vendors and customers, said Chris McNabb, general manager at Dell Boomi. Cloud vendors and enterprises today are creating APIs that can cooperate. It's a very interactive request-and-response scenario where everyone is considered a peer. There needs to be a way to offer up access points to all of the legacy stuff in a modern way, which will lead to a dramatic proliferation in APIs. APIs and API management will be the next big wave as enterprises look to integration.

This API management addition is the answer to the key problem that CIOs in a hybrid environment face. New cloud applications like Marketo and require CIOs to think about how to aggregate and consolidate information to ensure there are no duplicates. McNabb believes that the modern enterprise needs integration and consistency to solve that problem in a cohesive manner.

McNabb said one part of the strategy must be to leverage integration platforms as a service (iPaaS) that can support cloud, mobile, social and analytics services. "It's not possible for organizations to be on-premises with what they have forever."

Common standards provide options

But this is not necessarily a straightforward task. The iPaaS must not only support different cloud services, but also different versions, said Bruce Tierney, director at Oracle Cloud Integration. This level of application and version awareness within a cloud service integration reduces some of the bigger risks and reduces time to integrate.

One good practice is to ensure the use of common standards, architecture and underlying product components between the cloud-based integration platform and the on-premises-based integration platforms. For example, increased regulatory requirements in one region require transitioning an integration deployment from cloud to on-premises. Conversely, cost requirements might drive an integration platform to migrate from on-premises to a public cloud. Tierney said, "Hybrid integration platforms must support common standards, architecture, and underlying components between on-premises and cloud-based integration offerings to provide deployment choice for business flexibility."

Enterprise architects need to consider a long-term view of an integration service backbone's total cost, said Paulo Rosado, CEO of OutSystems, a cloud-based rapid application development service. He explained, "One of the big mistakes of the citizen developer/integrator movement is perpetrated by platforms that give you a simple, very fast initial learning curve but later make it really difficult to evolve the integration or application to enterprise grade. The optimal strategy is the one where simple, default apps and integrations can be done by citizens; but as change requests and new needs pile up, it enables IT to come to the rescue and gracefully take over to evolve to large-scale, mission-critical applications and integrations."

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