Middleware Demystified

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The next level of functionality for EAI tools, and probably the functionality that best distinguishes EAI from other forms of middleware, is the support for business process rules. EAI allows the user to define proper business processes and make data integration subject to those rules; for example, the data moves automatically from the purchasing application to the accounts receivable app, but not until it has been signed off by the appropriate authority.

According to Hurwitz Group, Vitria's product was the first to incorporate this kind of business process support. Now others are adding the function both inside the corporation and across corporate lines in the supply chain.

Extensible Markup Language (XML) support is a key addition to EAI products, as is support for standards like BizTalk (a Microsoft-sponsored set of business-to-business communication protocols) and RosettaNet, a consortium working to establish electronics industry communication protocols. (For more on RosettaNet, see "Tag, You're It", CIO, May 2000.)With most EAI products, users purchase a central module and the specific interfaces they need. For instance, STC's e-Way product line includes separate "adapters" for SAP, Siebel, Lotus Notes and an array of back-end databases. Most EAI vendors also have a service branch to do custom programming if you need a connection to a home-grown application. "They seem to follow the 80-20 rule, meaning 80 per cent of your interfaces will be pre-built, and then they come in to do custom work on the other 20 per cent," says John Campanale, vice president of ARC, a consultancy in Boston.

Typical Usage

EAI is suitable for big companies that need to integrate lots of applications. Cargill, for example, uses BEA Systems' eLink EAI product suite to interconnect a broad portfolio of apps including ERP, maintenance management, inventory and cost accounting systems, among others.

WHEW!

Which middleware is right for your company? There's no single answer. Different kinds of applications and integration needs are best served by different kinds of middleware. On the other hand, using a single approach can offer great economies of scale and development effort. At any rate, weighing the options is a lot easier when you know what the terms mean.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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