Looking at reasons why we adopt certain technical approaches to enterprise systems integration I’m increasingly concerned by a ‘how’ approach, using proprietary, expensive technology to create relatively simple styles of interaction effectively eclipsing the ‘what’. This ‘how’ approach appears to be rooted in technical policy and commercial structures rooted in the past, during which times proprietary/vendor solutions had more credibility than home-grown options. However looking at the ongoing commoditisation of application integration, the dominance of the web, and all manner of open-source technical options, it strikes me that we need to review our position, and attempt to find ways of selectively breaking out of the vicious circle of ‘licence renewal’ and ‘false economy’ in favour of a more blended approach.
Systems integration is dominated by TLA’s with a heavy vendor influence, and as such it’s easy to get lost in the cloud of complexity associated with MOM, JMS, MQ, XA, SSL, PKI, REST, HTTP, SYNCH, ASYNCH, PERSISTENT, QOS, etc. It’s no surprise, therefore that systems integration shoulders the burden of the difficult stuff getting brushed under the ‘proverbial carpet’ as opposed to the aspiration of the ‘intelligent application-aware network’. As that carpet gets ‘lumpier’, we throw more TLA’s into the mix and add more and more intelligence into the network, resulting in more complexit and a vicious circle. It’s no surprise that we’ve struggled to gain the confidence of the enterprise to the extent where we are in a position to move to commoditise what has become a very complex array of sticking plasters upon sticking plasters.
Shifting the focus to ‘the web’ and my interactions across that global ‘unreliable’, diverse, evolving network. I note initially that I have a natural understanding of what I want to happen each time I select one or my many application’s. My mail client gives me the ability to create asynchronous 1:1 or 1:n distribution flows, with the ability of conveying large payloads and attachments. My instant messenger client allows me to enage in synchronous 1:1 or 1:n interactions, my feed-reader will sink event streams at a frequency I define. My blog client let’s me cache up a range of 1:n broadcast documents which are periodically published to a hosting platform. My twitter client lets me post informal event snippets. The list goes on.
The key point here is that I care not how any of my selected applications undertake my requested interaction, and in all honesty (even though I’ve implemented countless protocols in my time) I don’t have the time to care because if they are working ok, then I understand the QoS I expect, and if I don’t get that QoS I vote with my feet. We sometimes hear terms like Jabber, XMPP, SMTP, POP3, HTTP, HTTPS, IRC, etc. in assocation with the applications we use, but I would argue that only a tiny proportion of users of Thunderbird/Outlook actually have any clue about the implication of those SMTP settings at a technical level.
So to my conclusion. Systems integrators (and adopters of such technology in the enterprise) evolved from a time and a market-place differentiated by the ‘how’ factor. Subsequent up-selling on that original platform has created a momentum of expectation and desire in the technology consumer space, by constantly mapping the ‘how’ factor to the ‘what’ factor, eclipsing the emergence of a more commoditised alternative gaining a foothold. This is a highly effective point of attack when coupled with a reminder of achieving ROI on the last n-years of similar investment right ?!
The web, by contrast has simplifed and commoditised the same kind of end product, and evolved a user community purely focused on the ‘what’, without a care for the ‘how’ factor. As such it is relatively simple to decouple a user of a web-application from any underlying technical infrastructure, so long as the QoS and the ‘what’ factor is maintainted. Would I even know if my Thunderbird/Outlook mail client began using a competely different store-n-forward protocol? I don’t believe I would.
I believe we need to bring this learning into the enterprise space, and detatch our ‘how’ users from the underlying detail and coaching them to become ‘what’ users, such that we in the integration layer can get to work commoditising the technical fabric in such a way that we do gain the necessary ‘specialisation’ from key vendors, but in the main, we regain control/choice of what it takes to actually pass an ‘xml document’ from source to destination, across a trusted network we control, and guarantee it gets there in one piece.
We seem to have missed this…as it doesn’t cost me six 0’s to hook into, and run an effective real-time business over the web now does it?
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