In-Depth

XML message router improves logistics for an agri-business

WINNER: Middleware and Application Integration

In an effort to improve logistics operations and automate the exchange of mission-critical information, agri-products business ABNA Ltd., Peterborough, U.K., needed to integrate apps from three companies as well as third-party trading partners. With nearly 2,000 deliveries a day, hauling 10 million tons of goods a year across the U.K., ABNA needed a highly scalable integration framework to exchange, manage and route XML documents.



Mysia Benford, ABNAIT director

The company had relied on Microsoft BizTalk, but encountered hardware and operating system limits; in addition, the program required a number of large machines and costly software licenses. At the risk of disrupting established business and workflow processes, ABNA implemented Sonic Enterprise Services Bus (ESB), which features a distributed management framework, itinerary-based routing, a content-based routing service, a transformation service, message auditing, a service container, end-to-end reliability and comprehensive security.

Sonic ESB offers any-to-any connectivity through a distributed Service-Oriented Architecture. As a result, companies can plug applications, systems and business partners into the bus wherever and whenever necessary. The application enables companies to build out a standards-based bus through which multiple apps can communicate.

ABNA's was one of the first internal projects ever to use the Enterprise Service Bus, a distributed, standards-based infrastructure that integrates apps and orchestrates business processes across the enterprise using Web services and the J2EE Connector Architecture.

The project relied on the Cal Development Kit (CDK) to provide a framework around which the app was constructed. The CDK allows automatic generation and regeneration of core areas of functionality through analysis of a database's schema.

With 10 years of application design, development and systems analysis experience, the lone developer, Stuart Churchill of Cal Software Ltd., performed unit testing throughout the development process to ensure that new functionality performed as expected and that existing functionality had not inadvertently been altered.

The development life cycle centered on a rapid application development (RAD) process and had the goal of deploying the app in its simplest form at the earliest stage, and then adding enhanced functionality when required.

Churchill tracked the project through project management methodologies based on Prince2, Microsoft Project and associated Microsoft Office tools. This allowed for the tracking of project tasks on a day-to-day basis.

The application is an intelligent message router that sits at the center of the enterprise environment, to which both business systems and third-party trading hubs connect and exchange messages (as XML documents) in a "hub-and-spoke" layout. The message router ensures that data is mapped to a format suitable for the receiving system. External systems can communicate with the message router through various protocols, including JMS and HTTP.

A management console is accessed through any Internet browser. This allows the user to configure, maintain and monitor the operation of the message router.

What made this project a success, according to Mysia Benford, ABNA IT director, was the ability of the CDK to support the RAD process. "Without that, the management of change would have quickly become an onerous task," Benford noted.

Developer Churchill used Sonic ESB out of the box and heeded some mentoring from Sonic Software.

The biggest challenge, according to Benford, "has been the understanding and acceptance of how business processes at a divisional level will change with the introduction of a common logistics service. From a technology stance, the biggest challenge was interfacing to legacy applications."

Another challenge encountered during development was that a large area of the app was being built using the first commercial release of Sonic ESB. As a result, there was a lack of knowledge about the product within the vendor's support team. Despite that, the application has been deployed on that same first commercial release.

Management and the user community also consider the project a success. It resulted in a single, content-based message router encompassing the use of XML/XSL with wide-ranging functionality.

With Sonic ESB, ABNA was able to automate its processes across customer, accounting, trading and business systems running on Unix, HP OpenVMS and Windows NT. The firm was able to streamline operations, resulting in the elimination of costly customer integration. ABNA expects to save between $5 and $10 million annually using the ESB infrastructure.

APPLICATION PROFILE
Project: Sonic Enterprise Services Bus (ESB) Purpose: To improve logistics operations and to automate the exchange, management and routing of XML documents among ABNA's supply management systems, subsidiaries, trading partners and customers. Benefits: Streamlined operations and eliminated costly customer integration efforts.

Platform: Windows 2000 Server TOOLS Progress 9.1D Enterprise RDBMS, Sonic ESB, SonicMQ 4.0, Apache Tomcat 4.1, Java 2 SDK 1.3.1

DEVELOPMENT TEAM
Mysia Benford, Stuart Churchill

KEANE REPORT
ABNA's project is an ongoing initiative to integrate its enterprise logistics systems and third-party trading partners for one of the most innovative logistics networks in the U.K. ABNA exhibited best practices, innovative approaches and innovative technologies by:

  • Being a leading-edge innovator and first early adopter of Sonic ESB middleware.
  • Innovative use of Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA).
  • Incorporating rigorous IT security in the middleware architecture from its inception, including non-repudiation and full-auditing capabilities.
  • Systematically analyzing and rejecting legacy middleware technologies that were not delivering the scalability and total-cost-of-ownership benefits desired.
  • Realizing quantitative benefits by sharing logistics information (using XML-based middleware) both internally and externally. ABNA is using middleware to save between 5% and 10% of its costs for a $100 million operation.

Team Leader: Karl Garrison, Keane Inc.



About the Author

Lana Gates is a freelance writer based in Mesa, Arizona. She can be reached via e-mail at freelancewriter@gates-works.com.

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