In the race to develop and deploy new applications, many organisations are hampered by their legacy IT architectures, which cannot deliver change rapidly. Ron Grevink, European director of integration strategy at access and integration specialist WRQ, says the company aims to transform these obstacles into opportunities.
That is what it did for Zurel, a Netherlands-based importer and exporter of cut flowers and plants. Zurel’s market lead came under threat in 2000 when competitors began to sell online. Zurel’s legacy environment was too inflexible to support online buying. So the company implemented WRQ’s Verastream product, which enabled it to integrate its new online store with its legacy back-office applications.
“Critical data and logic resides in legacy systems, and new applications are not useful if they cannot access this data and logic. But legacy systems lack flexibility and do not enable business processes to be changed quickly,” says Grevink.
The answer, he says, is to extend these systems to create a new architectural model: the “service-oriented architecture”.
The service-orientated architecture is one in which coarse-grained chunks of business and data logic are exposed as services via well-defined interfaces. This approach offers many benefits, says Grevink: agility, reuse, scalability and the ability to integrate services with multiple new applications. “Why develop from scratch a piece of software that you already have in a 30-year-old Cobol application sitting on a mainframe?” he asks.
However, legacy applications present special integration challenges. Often, for example, programmers find that a legacy application does not provide a convenient transactional interface to which they can write. And writing directly to the database bypasses business logic in a way that could seriously compromise data integrity.
Grevink is a proponent of a different approach. He refers to it as “programmatic integration”, a term originally coined by IT market research group Gartner. Programmatic integration software, such as WRQ’s Verastream product, explain Gartner analysts, “provides a mechanism to package defined
sequences of character-based data into programmatic representations, such as Component Object Model (COM), Java or Extensible Markup Language (XML), to supply legacy information to new composite applications”.
This approach has several key benefits, according to Grevink: it is non-invasive, in that it requires no host programming; it does not disrupt existing operations; and it enables organisations to use existing IT skills. “Because it provides an abstraction of host function, new applications can be delivered quickly and they have no dependency on the original host application,” he adds.
The programmatic integration approach could provide an answer to organisations that are striving to be more agile without replacing their legacy systems. After all, ripping out and replacing legacy systems is neither practical nor affordable for most of them, and such an approach runs the risk of valuable logic and data being lost forever, says Grevink.
The view that extending legacy systems is a far more attractive option than replacing them is backed up by Gartner analysts, who point out that about 70% of the world’s mission-critical applications reside on legacy systems. ” The programmatic integration server market represents a great opportunity for growth. Products in this market provide great flexibility to enterprises looking to expose legacy systems through more sophisticated composite applications,” says Gartner.