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Thoughts from the Integration Consortium:
The Problem with Best-of-Breed Integration Solutions

online columnist  Integration Consortium     Column published in DMReview.com
March 3, 2005
 
  By Integration Consortium

This month's column was contributed by David Mavashev, CEO and co-founder of Nastel.

Business integration continues to be a major focus area for many companies as market forces change, new opportunities emerge and firms strive to achieve a level of business agility that can crush competition and seize market share and growth. Meanwhile, the marketplace for integration middleware continues to be in a state of flux, with mature, established integration vendors such as IBM, webMethods and TIBCO facing competition from heavyweight competitors such as Microsoft and BEA and also from emerging vendors in new-technology areas such as the enterprise service bus (ESB), smart enterprise suites, lightweight process integration and open source initiatives.

As a result of this frenetic market activity, companies frequently end up opting for a best-of-breed integration approach where products from different middleware vendors are brought together to deliver the most effective solution. In addition, mergers and acquisitions together with departmental autonomy often increase the likelihood of a company running a multi-vendor integration infrastructure. It is not uncommon for a firm to be using IBM's WebSphereMQ family of middleware as a general integration framework with TIBCO for specific needs such as multi-cast publish/subscribe and webMethods to handle specific B2B needs. Add in the desire of the firm to reduce cost by adopting an ESB approach across the wider corporate network and it is clear that best-of-breed solutions can rapidly become somewhat unmanageable.

In fact, this management aspect of the multi-vendor integration middleware approach is one that causes a great deal of concern. While each vendor component may be a best-of-breed choice, most closely matching the specific requirements of the relevant area of operations, the issue is that company performance will depend on end-to-end business operations encompassing potentially all of the individual vendor components. For example, a performance problem with one middleware component will affect the entire business process. And the problem is exacerbated by the fact that although the different vendors may have some sort of interoperability support between each other, this is usually only at a functional level rather than at a management level. A TIBCO system may be able to talk to an IBM MQ system, but it has no knowledge of what is happening under the IBM MQ covers.

On top of these issues, best-of-breed integration approaches often end up as a collection of technology silos that are not architected to scale across the heterogeneous reality of today's distributed computing and disparate systems environments. The result is that companies are increasingly finding that the availability and performance of operational business systems can be severely impacted without any warning, requiring extensive recovery time as technicians delve into each middleware environment to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together and resolve the problem. Although each integration vendor will offer its own tools to administer and manage its components and the tasks they are executing, these tools are blind once the work thread passes into another vendor's area of control. This forces a problem resolution approach very much reliant on offline investigation, with significant real-time impact to operations.

Does this mean that a best-of-breed approach to integration is wrong? Is this an argument for a single-vendor solution? Fortunately, the answer is no. Tools are now available that can address this issue by providing end-to-end, multi-middleware management support with a scalable architecture to address the silo nature of existing technology choices. There are two critical areas of importance that these tools need to address to ensure an adequate level of service to the business in multi-vendor middleware environments:

  • Monitoring
  • System actions

Monitoring is the mechanism by which operations staff can keep a constant eye on business operations as processes move from one vendor environment to another. This capability should be able to drive specific middleware interfaces and facilities but should also be able to stand apart from any one middleware component, instead overseeing all while maintaining an understanding of the specific business process thread being executed. This, therefore, enables the performance of the business operation to be monitored end to end, making it possible to detect upcoming performance or availability problems before they happen and also providing real-time tracing information to enable rapid problem determination in the event of a problem.

Once a problem is detected or recognized as emerging, the tool needs to be able to carry out system actions across the spread of vendor middleware. This may involve starting or stopping resources or even reallocating resources between the different parts of the business operation. It may also be necessary to deflect the problem or occurrence to an overall enterprise management framework such as Tivoli or OpenView.

As well as these critical areas of support, the multi-middleware management tool can also provide important assistance in another area, that of reporting. Although not critical to availability, an accurate understanding of how end-to-end integrated business operations are performing is important in making it possible to enhance processes and improve operational efficiency. Again, if this information can be brought together across the different middleware components, the risk of suboptimization of individual components is avoided.

In summary, best-of-breed integrated operations require a combination of a best-of-breed integration technology approach together with management tools that can give an accurate, real-time picture of operations on an end-to-end basis, spanning the middleware technology silos and distributed, heterogeneous environment to ensure delivery of the availability, performance and scalability targets that the business requires.

David Mavashev develops and maintains the corporate and technology vision for Nastel Technolgies. Mavashev has more than 25 years of experience in sales, managing and implementing software technologies, with a track record of transforming them into profitable new businesses. He has extensive experience in enterprise systems management specifically in the areas of performance monitoring of middleware technologies. During his career, Mavashev has held number key technical and managerial positions within fortune 500 companies and established a software consulting company serving the real estate, retail and transportation industries.

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For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Data Integration.

The Integration Consortium is a non-profit, leading industry body responsible for influencing the direction of the integration industry. Its members champion Integration Acumen by establishing standards, guidelines, best practices, research and the articulation of strategic and measurable business benefits. The Integration Consortium's motto is "Forging Integration Value." The mission of the member-driven Integration Consortium is to establish universal seamless integration which engages industry stakeholders from the business and technology community. Among the sectors represented in the Integration Consortium membership are end-user corporations, independent software vendors (ISVs), hardware vendors, system integrators, academic institutions, non-profit institutions and individual members as well as various industry leaders. Information on the Integration Consortium is available at www.integrationconsortium.org or via e-mail at info@integrationconsortium.org.

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