SOA, semantics to fundamentally change data integration

A competitive business landscape requires new approaches to data integration, using SOAs and semantics, according to the keynote at the Global Integration Summit.

BOSTON -- New business requirements and emerging technologies are rapidly transforming data integration, according to the opening keynote presentation at the third annual Global Integration Summit.

Data integration techniques are changing significantly as companies move toward interaction systems, service-oriented architectures (SOAs), and semantic-aware networks, according to Summit keynote presenter William Ruh, vice president of San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems. The Integration Consortium, a nonprofit industry group based in Vienna, Va., organized the three-day event, attended by a few hundred vendors, practitioners and industry stakeholders last week.

Competition will drive companies to update their infrastructures with systems that interact with one another in near real time to enable such activities as cross-selling products, understanding customers, and managing supply chain activities, Ruh said. These interaction systems require an underlying architecture that can effectively integrate data quickly from many sources, he explained.

"Interactions are all about integration, but it's fundamentally different than the integration we created five or 10 years ago," Ruh told Summit attendees.

The world is moving toward an "Internet of things," where companies are connecting vast and varied data sources to gain new insight into their businesses, Ruh said. For example, sensors, such as RFID tags, can provide new, real-time information such as product quality and location, he explained, adding that making timely use of these new data sources requires new ways of approaching data integration.

"The network has been viewed as a pipe, but as we move to these interaction systems, it changes the nature of the architecture," Ruh said.

Companies are increasingly looking to SOAs to support these new integration requirements, Ruh added. They are thinking about their infrastructure in a new way, taking into account the need for massive scaling and the ability to plug in many lightweight applications. New "chatty applications" will want to talk to each other "all the time," he said, and that requires a shift in the way companies approach architecture design and management. Some industries may find the benefits of this new approach well worth the effort.

Retail has typically relied on legacy, transaction-oriented, "fat" applications, often with batch-style integration with other systems. There is a lot of opportunity for retail outfits to increase sales by increasing real-time interaction between systems, Ruh said.

Integration will change even more over the next five to seven years, he said, driven by the high expectations of consumers and emerging technologies such as semantics. The concept of semantics, also espoused by attendees at a recent Data Management Association event, refers to the creation of machine-understandable data definitions. Semantics enables information to be discovered and connected more effectively, Ruh said, and will be the underpinning of the next-generation network.

Semantics has a ways to go, however, before it can revolutionize integration, Ruh cautioned. He said that the industry needs standards for semantics, adding that one initiative, the Resource Description Framework, "seems to be getting to that tipping point."

"Semantics is a core aspect of what we've got to get into all aspects of architecture," Ruh said. "[Lack of semantics] will keep the CIO from delivering these interaction networks."

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