Calling all integration experts!

Remember the old Universal Translator as modeled here by the late Mr. Spock? One of the first (or perhaps future?) examples of integration solutions, and certainly one of the most fondly rememberehttp://zagg-blog.s3.amazonaws.com/community/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/12581.jpgd! But at its heart, it is also an almost perfect representation of the integration challenges today. Many years ago, there was EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) which was all about integrating homegrown applications with purchased package applications and/or alien applications brought in from Mergers and Acquisitions activity. The challenge was to find a way to make these applications from different planets communicate with one another to increase return on assets and provide a complete view of enterprise activity. EAI tools appeared from vendors such as TIBCO, SeeBeyond, IBM, Vitria, Progress Software, Software AG and webMethods to mention just a few.

Then there came the SOA initiative. By building computer systems with applications in the form of reusable chunks of business functionality (called services) the integration challenge could be met by enabling different applications to share common services.

Now the eternal wheel is turning once again, with the integration challenge clothed in yet another disguise. This time it is all about integrating systems with completely different usage a resource characteristics such as mobile devices, IoT components and traditional servers, but also applications of completely new types such as mobile apps and cloud-based SaaS solutions. In an echo of the past, lines of business are increasingly going out and buying cloud-based services to solve their immediate business needs, or paying a third-party developer to create the App they want, only to then turn to IT to get them to integrate the new solutions with the corporate systems of record.

Once again the vendors will respond to these user needs, probably extending and redeveloping their existing integration solutions or maybe adding new pieces where required. But as you look for potential partners to help you with this next wave of integration challenges, it is worth keeping in mind possibly the most important fact of all; a fact that has been evident throughout the decades of integration challenges to date. Every single time the integration challenge has surged to the top of the priority list, the key differentiator contributing to eventual success is not the smarts built into the tools and software / appliances on offer. Rather it is all about the advice and guidance you can get from people with extensive experience in integration challenges. Whether from vendors or service providers, these skills are absolutely essential. When it comes down to it, the technical challenges of integration are just the tip of the iceberg; all the real challenges are how you plan what you are going to do and how you work across disciplines and departments to ensure the solution is right for your company. You don’t have the time to learn this – find a partner who has spent years steeped in integration and listen to what they have to say!

Why did IBM produce the MQ Appliance?

MQappliance

So IBM has delivered an MQ Appliance (the IBM MQ Appliance M2000 to give it its handy IBM name). For the uninitiated, this is MQ in a box (literally!). But why? Obviously, appliances often appeal from a security point of view, since they are often tamper-evident and anyway pretty hard to hack if they are physically locked up. But MQ is all about delivering messages; OK, the messages in the queues might have value, but they are probably encrypted anyway if they are sensitive. Now a security gateway, well sure an appliance makes sense. Stop all those undesirables coming into your enterprise with a secure box. But MQ?

Turns out there are some pretty damn convincing reasons why numerous companies are going to be very interested in the MQ Appliance. Think about MQ and where/how it is used. MQ usage is pretty much pervasive in most large companies, often providing the enterprise backbone for all application to application communications. It offers assured once-only delivery and is particularly good at dealing with hostile networks where connectivity is sporadic. Messages are simply queued and then delivered when the connection is available. As a result, it is often the most attractive way to communicate between applications all the way out to the fringes of the enterprise. When dealing with countries that have limited communications infrastructure the asynchronous nature of MQ makes it an ideal communications mechanism. However there is a drawback; often these sorts of locations are also the ones with the fewest available IT skills locally. Setting up MQ queue managers and queues is not a trivial operation.

But it is now! Instead of having a software stack that needs to be installed, companies can simply deliver the MQ Appliance to all their key locations. The recipients plug it in, turn it on and then specialists can configure it remotely. It is now ready to run; no wait, no messing, no opportunity for accidents, no need for expensive maintenance and support resources, just start messaging straight away. Maintenance is quick and easy and can be handled by a single team; each box is consistent and maintenance is applied as a single firmware upgrade to all devices. In terms of capacity, the MQ Appliance has a pretty vast RAID array for holding the messages in queues until they have been delivered, and if availability is critical then by simply having two MQ Appliances and three cables between them you instantly have duplex queues ensuring that any hardware failure does not cause an outage.

Having a uniform appliance for all the major MQ nodes also ensures that there is consistency in terms of configuration and operations. This makes results predictable and speeds up problem determination if there are any application or usage issues. Seems to me that just about any enterprise that has adopted MQ as its messaging backbone will be interested in the MQ Appliance.

And the best bit? It has to be that cool ‘MQ Appliance’ label just under the display!