In-Depth

A modern face for a Progress engine

Web services and related Service-Oriented Architectures (SOAs) are changing the face of corporate computing. They are also rocking the world of ISVs. The stories of enterprise users and ISVs are remarkably similar, and the successes of ISVs -- whose software is so often part of the corporate mix -- have meaning for enterprise developers. Their embrace of Web services integration will come to simplify part of the IT department’s integration tasks over time.

At NxTrend Technology Inc., Web services allowed the company to continue to use its established transaction engine while putting on a most “modern” face for other systems, indicated Ross Elliott, vice president and chief strategy officer at the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based supply distribution software house.

Elliott said NxTrend, recently purchased by Agilisys Inc., has been with Progress and its 4GL toolset since 1989 and has used more recent Progress Java and Web services offerings to update its portfolio. NxTrend now has deployments on Linux, Unix and Windows 2000.

“We manage the procurement side and push out [orders] to suppliers. There is a fair amount of EDI in all of this,” he noted. “We haven’t found a better language than Progress. What we wanted to do was expose that to the outside world.”

To provide this exposure, NxTrend built a layer of technology that Elliott and company called “Highlander.” It provides, if you will, a layer of service abstraction. SOA is the point, and Web services are just part of that story.

“We can expose the Progress business logic as a Java JAR file, a Web service, a COM object or as a .NET DLL. That gave us wide latitude of technology with which to do the job,” said Elliott.

“At the end of the day, the notion is SOA. With it, your business logic is exposed to any technology,” he said. “In the late 1990s we started envisioning building apps like you do Tinkertoys, with common connectors and pieces.”

Now the Web services are the blocks and pins. SOA is the way to glue them together.

Elliott said NxTrend also uses the Sonic Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) to sit on top of the services. (Sonic is a Progress company.) He said that using the ESB allows services to be called or scheduled from the NxTrend app or “any third-party application.”

One caveat: XML, described by Elliott as “the verb of choice for Web services,” has a tendency to add more weight to an application. “We use it only where it is appropriate, or it will slow us down,” he noted.

But the general trend is good. “We are bullish on this as the next generation of computing. Over time, SOA is going to revolutionize the way we do application development. We become specialists [at the unique things we create] and consumers of commercially available services for the common things we do,” Elliott said.

Elliott said NxTrend is starting to see time-to-market successes with this software approach. “We can get to market faster because we can build 80% [of it] and use commercially available Web services to fill in the blanks,” he said.

About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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