I was delighted to see Steve stressing the importance of file transfer in enterprise architectures today and for the foreseeable future.
This presents a challenge for any SOA program: to balance between the need to move ahead with ‘modern’ technologies and the need to take account of the reality that the enterprise world is full of file transfers and excel spreadsheets carrying out critical business calculations. To be blunt: Any organisation intending to deploy a ‘global’ SOA, must figure out how these ugly bugs can be made to fit in.
To look at file transfer first, there is no reason why you should not include file transfer as a transport. As I put it in an article entitled “Including batch-driven applications in real-time integration projects” published back in 2005:
“When we consider existing transport protocols, and particularly the business processes they support, we are confronted with the reality … that many of these are still batch based, even to the extent of using FTP or email to distribute non-XML documents such as Excel files. Rather than disrupting the entire organization, SOA implementations must accommodate and integrate – without necessarily enforcing change on the business processes involved.”
“success [of SOA] will depend on how effectively the SOA can work alongside existing technologies. This means that the SOA must be capable of accessing whatever information, in whatever format, the application can expose”
Moving onto Excel, as we all know it is widely used as a platform for “edge applications” in the area of decision support and reporting – used by business line managers to make critical decisions. These spreadsheets embed some application logic and a lot of data. As I said in my ebizq blog a while back:
“Excel is an interesting product in that it often shows the rift between centralized IT and the business units. The reality is that within many if not all organizations Excel is used to make important and complex business calculations and Excel spreadsheets full of reference data and formulas are circulated by email between users and departments.”
Therefore, any SOA strategy must also take account of whether it will extend to include these Excel based applications or at least explicitly exclude them. All of which adds a couple of check boxes to the evaluation of any SOA software suite – and at least some of the vendors already provide good coverage for both file transfer protocols and excel.