by Tom Bice
To achieve business goals, IT organizations have been turning to the BEA WebLogic Platform and host integration software to focus on increasing returns on existing investments—whether those investments are people, technology, or new business processes. One of the biggest barriers to application development is unlocking legacy assets. Built up over the decades, host applications are rich with mission-critical customer information, making them vital corporate assets.
This article examines how developers can leverage BEA WebLogic Server and development platforms to unlock core host functionality needed to achieve competitive advantage. The article will look at the types of legacy challenges IT organizations face and how the BEA WebLogic Platform 8.1 enables companies to integrate critical host requirements through the WRQ Verastream host integration interface.
Through open standards, host integration, and service-oriented architecture (SOA), BEA WebLogic developers can create legacy-rich applications and services in months instead of years without having to understand the underlying complexities of the host or over-extending IT staff.
Businesses are tasked with getting more out of their existing investment in people, processes, and technology. This is especially true in IT where budgets and headcount have decreased dramatically in the past few years. However, even though resources are limited, organizations continue to demand more from IT to become more agile—by decreasing the project timeline, reacting quickly to changing business requirements, and ultimately creating an IT environment that is flexible enough to be proactive.
This, coupled with intense competition, has forced businesses to roll out new portal, web services, and mobile applications to increase business agility. In so doing, many IT organizations have standardized on the WebLogic Platform for application delivery and as an integration platform, thereby increasing returns on existing investments in people, technology, and business processes.
However, one of the biggest barriers to application development is unlocking legacy assets. Built up over the past 20 years or longer in some cases, host applications are vital corporate assets rich with important customer information. As IT experts know, these existing applications, both packaged and legacy, represent a sizable investment in terms of money and information. In addition, according to Gartner, 80 to 90 percent of existing legacy applications will still be in use through 2008.
With WebLogic Platform 8.1, developers have unencumbered access to legacy assets and can easily create new business initiatives that speed services delivery, improve customer responsiveness, and increase return on investments. These new legacy-rich portal, web self-service, and mobile applications must include data and logic from a variety of applications across the enterprise.
Legacy assets can be made available to the WebLogic development environment, which is built on the standards-based Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) platform. This is especially beneficial to organizations needing cross-platform portability and scalability for the ability to combine existing and new applications. But when scoping an integration project, businesses must consider this critical fact: The core functionality needed to drive new applications is typically right where it has been for decades—locked inside host systems.
Host applications still contain the majority of business functionality in most organizations. Unfortunately, integrating that functionality with other systems can be a lengthy, labor-intensive process. That's because host applications usually do not provide a clear separation of logic and data. Instead, the business logic is tightly entwined with data and presentation logic.
While many modern, packaged applications offer application program interfaces (APIs) that are easily accessible, few legacy applications do. For those applications, developer options consist of direct-data access or access through the terminal screen.
Although most legacy applications don't provide access to business logic through an API, there are some well-known exceptions. They include CICS- and IMS-based transactional applications on IBM platforms as well as Application Control and Management System for the OpenVMS platform. For example, the IBM external call interface (ECI) is one way of enabling programmatic access to the business logic of a CICS transaction. And BEA provides adapters that facilitate the process.
This can be a satisfactory integration method under the right circumstances. However, most host applications do not provide access to the business logic; only 20 to 25 percent of all CICS-based applications actually include an ECI. Adding the necessary support at this stage would take major application reengineering, a process that is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.
There are also difficulties with accessing the business logic using direct-data access, which may seem like the only other choice for integrating host applications. While developers can access data directly (especially if it resides in a relational database) by using a Java Connector Architecture (JCA) database driver, a database interface such as Java Database Connectivity (JDBC), or BEA adapters, there a couple of potential problems with this approach:
Business rules, which govern data use and updating, are the true value of any application. When integration is attempted through the data interface, the business rules are completely bypassed.
Frequently, essential data exists only within the business logic rather than at the data level. For example, the total value of an order might be calculated at runtime by multiplying the number of units by the per-unit price, rather than being stored as a value in a database.
For these reasons, direct-data access can be both impractical and risky. Furthermore, it often requires rewriting and moving of the business logic, which are equally unfeasible.
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