Tracking materials easy for Raytheon with SOA

Defense contractor Raytheon developed a materials tracking application on .NET using SOA and Web services.

Web services and service-oriented architecture are making the tedious task of scanning Raytheon Co.'s green screens to track materials a distant memory.

Since March, the Waltham, Mass.-based defense contractor has been using a homegrown Web-based tracking application, MTrak, developed on Microsoft's .NET platform, and uses third-party middleware to unlock legacy information once trapped on a mainframe.

Users can now bypass calls to mainframe techs to search for products that are either lost or late in arriving. Instead, a desktop client makes XML calls to a Web service that retrieves the location of parts or materials, similar to online retail delivery-tracking applications. Once a package arrives at a Raytheon loading dock, a bar code is affixed and scanned. Users only need to enter a package or part number to learn the location.

"It has helped our supply chain group, offloading searching to the site, so there are no calls any more," said senior business technologist Rob Vettor. "We save money and reduce the amount of lost material."

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Vettor's group has deployed MTrak at Raytheon's North Texas facility, as well as other divisions in California, Florida and Mississippi, with expansion also expected soon into Tucson, Ariz. -- Raytheon's missile plant -- and its six Northeast facilities.

"Almost every database call is a Web service," Vettor said. "We constructed a generic XML front end that shoots XML from each Web page. Once a user requests a search screen, every search from that point on calls a Web service from the desktop PC client.

"The client calls the Web service, brings it back and displays it on the screen. We're not posting back to the server every time. It saves us on network traffic and drives our entire presentation by data," Vettor said. "The potential now exists for other applications to call that Web service."

Vettor said his group at Raytheon realized the benefits of SOA and Web services as far back as two years ago.

"It's not a demanding technology to build," he said, noting his group is a longtime Microsoft and .NET shop. "The hard part was designing and organizing what to do first. We save on development time doing SOA. When we have built the service, it's easy to share and maintain it. Things are simple to modify. You go to one spot and change it."

The first phase of the MTrak deployment was completed this spring in just eight weeks, Vettor said. Previously, Raytheon users would have to log on to a host system with a unique user ID and password, navigating up to 60 screens of information to seek a part. Experienced users, Vettor said, would take up to two minutes to complete this process.

"Before Web services and .NET, most applications were ASP legacy X-server pages. All applications were silos," he said. "Sharing information between applications was difficult. For application A to talk to application B, we'd have to build an interface and set up a database. There was a lot of cumbersome work that was difficult to set up and maintain. And it was not dynamic."

WRQ's Verastream middleware now acts as the interface between the mainframe data and the Web service. Vettor said his group briefly thought about building their own interfaces, but quickly realized the complexity of such an undertaking and decided to buy a product that suited hem.

"The WRQ product abstracts the search to the mainframe to look like a database call," Vettor said. "Our guys can select a particular field from a particular table on the mainframe. This made it easy for our development team to use; it was a comfortable paradigm for them."

Vettor added that his development team embraced Web services and SOA, anxious to dip into new technology and a new design philosophy.

"People just dove into it; it almost seems too easy," he said. "If they didn't understand the benefit of it at first, when it got into mainstream use, they sure did.

"This is the way the industry is going. Raytheon is very decentralized. I hope some day a corporate vision for SOA will come."

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