ORLANDO, Fla. -– Odds are that an enterprise service bus (ESB) will make a stop at your organization sometime soon, and you'll be hopping aboard.
At the Gartner Application Integration and Web Services Summit this week, analysts predicted ESBs will drive the integration of a new generation of composite applications.
An ESB is Web services-enabled infrastructure that acts as an intermediary to enable distributed applications. It combines many of the strengths of other middleware technology, such as support for industry standards, messaging and event notification, and some management capabilities.
Why is the ESB rising to prominence? According to conference keynote speaker Roy Schulte, a Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst, application development trends are necessitating changes in integration.
Traditionally, application integration has been conducted as if "the network is stupid," Schulte said. Whether doing a file transfer or using JDBC, EII, MOM or CORBA, applications typically did all the work in point-to-point communications.
"This has to change because the way we're designing applications themselves is changing," Schulte said.
The biggest difference is the rise of composite applications -- or the use of logic from two or more applications to create a new piece of software. Composite applications are typically pieced together from software that is independent from one another, has different interfaces and data models, and no prearranged interaction.
In the creation of composite applications, application services are exposed on the network. That means the network evolves from merely transferring bytes in the integration process to becoming the site of the actual integration.
Composite applications are at the heart of service-oriented architectures (SOAs), which expose IT assets as service components that can be reused across an enterprise, and event-driven architectures, in which specific occurrences like a customer order trigger application activity.
The goal of an ESB is "to make a brand new service-oriented applications work," Schulte said.
That's important because as organizations develop an SOA, they'll deal with legacy applications that aren't service oriented. Larger businesses will also have to deal with multiple business units that often use different technology.
Take insurance firm Sun Life Financial. It has four different IT departments in Canada alone, each making its own technology decisions.
"Our problems tend to be more organizational than they are technological," according to Rick Schroeder, a Sun Life architect in Waterloo, Ontario. "To me, the question is 'How do you integrate the integrators?' "
Schulte said that even though an SOA succeeds because of its "plugability," businesses still have to contend with transformation, data synchronization and business process management. That will likely require integration suites that run alongside an ESB, he said.
Gartner estimates that fewer than 400 businesses currently use a packaged ESB but anticipates that number to grow exponentially – even if businesses don't make a conscious purchasing decision.
"Most people are not going to buy ESB as a separate, standalone product over time," Schulte said.
In fact, vendors will embed ESBs in a variety of offerings, including integration suites, application servers and packaged applications. Microsoft, for instance, already plans to package an ESB in the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn. Organizations also will likely find ESBs integrated into their business applications from vendors like SAP AG and Oracle Corp.
That means even those firms that try to standardize on a single platform will likely encounter multiple ESBs with diverse development tools, management functions and security domains.
The newest integration headache might be over integrating proprietary ESBs, Schulte said.
He recommended that businesses form integration competency centers, which would promote integration strategies and the use of common technology. Such a group should also be responsible for installing and testing new middleware.
A competency center was recently created at health care provider Aetna, which has roughly 400 employees creating its SOA.
The unit is designed "especially for quality control, so management can set the direction and be sure we're following through," said Paul Bartram, an architect at Aetna's Middletown, Conn., office. "Otherwise, there can be a tendency to drift."
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Read the varying definitions for service-oriented architectures
See if others think enterprise service buses are a lasting concept or just a buzzword