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Enterprise Architecture August 10, 2012

Posted by mattpassini in Enterprise Architecture.
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Key Technologies in Enterprise Architecture

One of the most widely accepted statements of what defines enterprise architecture is as follows: “Enterprise architecture is the process of translating business vision and strategy into effective enterprise change” [1].  It is important to understand that the goal of EA is not to simply create an end product, but to continually set the strategic goals that drive the business forward.  The separate organizational units must take these goals, utilize the architecture that EA has set forth, and align themselves with the other organizational units to create one unified and aligned business that is agile, effective, and efficient.  However, the business units can be perfectly aligned and the enterprise architecture can have solid building blocks, but without a streamlined, efficient, and powerful technology backed foundation, enterprise architecture is doomed to failure.  Two of the biggest aspects of the technology backing an enterprise architecture are integration and interoperability – two seemingly contradicting values.  The following are five technologies and standards are essential in creating technology that is not only streamlined and integrated, but also highly available from disparate, heterogeneous systems.

Perhaps the most integral part of integrated business is a common database, or a data warehouse.  A data warehouse is a singular data store which combines data from varying internal systems as well as external environments and cohesively stores the data in a centralized manner.  Once collected, the data can be transformed to create consistency, analyzed, and finally reported in the form of useful information.  While some may find it hard to determine downsides to this apparently obvious technology, there are indeed business models that do not benefit as highly from such a system.  For instance, a diversified business model would likely only benefit from combined HR and a few other central, non-diverse business units.  Aside from those, a diversified business model would require very unique data stores for each of their diversified lines of business.  Another downside of a data warehouse is that “the warehouse is useful only as a reference – it does not offer real-time data across applications.”[2] This issue is corrected at the heart of the following technologies and standards.

When dealing with anything, following industry standards – or actively defining new ones when necessary, plays a crucial role in how solid your technology foundation will be.  The Object Management Group (OMG) is an organization that aims to “quickly develop a specification in the hopes that it will become a de facto standard.”[3] The Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) is one such standard brought forth by OMG.  CORBA sets a blueprint for solving the real-time data sharing problem by defining standards that enable software written in varying computer languages and running on differing computers and systems to interoperate and work together.

Service Oriented Architecture is one such take on an implementation of that ideal.   SOA defines an architecture which “requires loose coupling of services with operating systems and other technologies that underlie applications. SOA separates functions into distinct units, or services, which developers make accessible over a network in order to allow users to combine and reuse them in the production of applications.”  Much like a central data store, or data warehouse, a SOA provides a centralized location for communicated at the application level.  This interoperability provides instant access to any system capable of communicating via varying SOA implementations, such as web services, which will be discussed below.  The level of abstraction, loose coupling, discoverability, integration, and reusability vitally enhance an enterprise architecture’s application domain.  Much like the downside to data warehousing, SOA may provide limited benefits to a diversification business model due to the varying diverse lines of business requiring their own set of software and applications, limiting the number of centralized SOA opportunities.

One concrete implementation of SOA is the utilization of web services.  A web service is “a software system designed to support interoperable machine-to-machine interaction over a network.”[5] Disparate systems generally use a Web Services Description Language (WSDL) in order to communicate and interact with the web service.  Typically, SOAP messages are sent via HTTP serialized in XML. This implementation allows for varying access points and devices to consume the capability of an application.  The definition is completely abstracted from the coding implementation, so end user’s consuming the information need not worry about the back end.

Abstracting the entire SOA and web services process even further, an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) can be implemented as a backbone to the SOA.  ESB is an architecture which is used to model the interoperability and communication between two interacting endpoints in a SOA.  Much like a hardware bus in a computer handles the transfer of data between system components; an ESB allows applications to be easily turned on and off of the network without needing to take down the actual endpoints.  The ability to hot-swap configurations allows for easier and faster changes and even looser coupling.

One of the major goals of EA is to increase agility and decrease the time required to make changes.  Once data is integrated into a singular data store, and systems are integrated and highly interoperable, the organization becomes streamlined and is able to adapt to the market quickly and efficiently.  Data warehousing provides essential and consistent information from the data given, but lacks the real-time monitoring that is necessary in an integrated organization.  A Service Oriented Architecture, backed by an Enterprise Service Bus, and implemented using Web Services is an excellent example of a truly robust set of technologies working in harmony to create an efficient business with a solid foundation for the maturing Enterprise Architecture.

References:
[1] Gartner Clarifies the Definition of the Term ‘Enterprise Architecture’
Published: 12 August 2008 ID:G00156559

[2] Ross, Jeanne W., Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson. Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School, 2008. pp. 7

[3] Soley, Richard. What Makes a Standard?. http://blog.omg.org/ 04/18/2012

[4] Bell, Michael Introduction to Service-Oriented Modeling. Service-Oriented Modeling: Service Analysis, Design, and Architecture. Wiley & Sons. 2008. pp. 3

[5] W3C. February 11, 2004. Retrieved 2012-08-09.

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