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SOAP forms global integration

With offices in 35 countries, the IT operation at Future Electronics, the third largest electronics distributor in the world, developed its own enterprise applications to run its operations. But the organization needed a way to integrate all of its global systems.

Most of the Montreal-based organization's mission-critical applications reside on a Compaq Himalaya/Tandem environment, but the firm wanted to be able to add new Unix elements and Windows environments to the mix. They turned to Web services-based integration to create a loosely coupled integration infrastructure.

Future Electronics chose tools from webMethods Inc., Fairfax, Va., to integrate its non-stop-based ERP system with its quoting system residing on a Microsoft platform, said Bob Lapointe, CIO. Because data about customers and industries was part of the ERP system, Future Electronics wanted to integrate those applications rather than duplicate files back and forth, he added.

In addition, Future Electronics wanted to acquire a Web-based store that would run on the Unix platform, integrate with its ERP system and use Windows technologies. With the use of the webMethods offerings, "solutions are seamlessly residing on all three platforms," Lapointe confirmed.

Service-Oriented Architectures (SOAs) have so far helped Future Electronics developers to avoid duplicate work. "In this case we're able to leverage what has been done, and if a service has been exposed, it becomes available for whoever needs it," Lapointe explained. "You're able to deliver more in a lot less time."

The organization has also added a SOAP interface to its ERP system. This, Lapointe noted, allowed other platforms to have access to transactions without having to rewrite them.

But the SOAP interface comes with native overhead, added Bob Seeney, chief Web architect. "It often has more data than you need to use within an enterprise." Because of that, Future Electronics went more native over its ERP system directly where it did not need the standards-based interface -- sometimes through Java, sometimes through COM interfaces with Microsoft. "We support standards, but it's more bulky for our network to go on a services-based architecture," Seeney explained.

Lapointe cautioned that implementing SOA technology does not mean an organization should throw everything else out. "It's only another tool in the toolkit to solve the problem at hand" he noted.

Where Future Electronics has used SOAP, it has realized definite benefits. Its order-entry system, for example, is written in Cobol on its Tandem system under the Guardian OS. The organization has never been able to expose that before, Seeney noted. "We exposed that by using SOAP and making the webMethods integration server act as a client to the order-entry system. We essentially expose our complete order-entry system to the Internet."

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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