Product Review: ADVANCED BusinessLink's Strategi SOA

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Much has been made of the benefits of a service-oriented architecture, but, according to Chris Lategan, CEO of ADVANCED BusinessLink, "For a long time now, when most RPG folks hear 'SOA' they think, 'that's a Java thing' or 'that's a .NET thing, it's not something that's applicable to me.'" Strategi SOA from ADVANCED BusinessLink turns that thinking on its head.

The first thing to understand about Strategi SOA is how it differs from other products that claim to move legacy applications to a service-oriented architecture. Other products are usually screen scrapers that put wrappers around the code for existing green screens, but this approach defeats the intent of SOA. Services are supposed to be single-purpose chunks of code. This makes them broadly callable by any service-oriented application that needs that discrete unitary function. In contrast, screen scrapers simply make the screen's code, including all of the underlying complexity, callable as a service so it can be employed more easily to create modern interfaces as seen on Web applications and kiosks. There are benefits to this approach, but it forgoes the wide-ranging reusability and platform-neutral modularity hallmarks of true service-oriented architectures.

Strategi SOA is different. It implements an enterprise service bus (ESB) on a System i server to provide a pure, native SOA environment. This allows programmers using any language—RPG, COBOL, CL or any other System i language—to create services that may be called by applications written in any language and running on any platform. Developers can do this using straight RPG, without the need for a proprietary IDE.

With Strategi SOA, applications written in RPG and any other System i language can easily call any service running on any platform. It doesn't matter whether those services are Java or .NET-based.

Using Strategi SOA, the services that RPG developers employ in their applications don't even have to run on the organization's servers. They can be services that have been made available by other organizations for general use over the Internet, such as Google's search service, or perhaps one that accesses real-time currency exchange rates and converts a value from one currency to another.

Because, with a service it is the functionality that matters, not the language in which it is written, Strategi SOA allows RPG and other System i "legacy"-language programmers to work friction free along with other developers who might be using more "modern" languages, such as Java or C#. The developer who writes a call to a service neither has to know nor care what language was used to create it. The only concern is what the service does.

For example, it is a trivial exercise to use an RPG-based service in a Java application. It becomes equally easy to use a Java-based service in an RPG application. Taking advantage of this characteristic, a service-oriented application is built not as a monolithic string of code, but rather as a collection of services that are called as necessary. By enabling this service-oriented methodology, Strategi SOA allows RPG programmers to shed the "legacy" label that is too often attached to them.

When using Strategi SOA to move legacy application functionality into a service-oriented architecture, it is not necessary to convert everything at once. In fact, ADVANCED BusinessLink advises against that course. "We very strongly discourage the all-or-nothing approach," says Lategan. "We put people through a brief training—architecture and programmer training—and then we tell them, 'With every project you do from now on, fashion that application as a series of services. Don't do anything different from what is on your to-do list now, just do it the new way. Over the course of a few years, you'll end up in a very different place.'"

Using a service-oriented approach, companies can quickly develop modern application interfaces that are difficult, if not impossible, using traditional RPG programming techniques. "The great thing is that, after three days of training, they [developers] can come back with a brand-new Web application, where previously they weren't capable of building one," explains Lategan. "They can give executives inquiries on all of their PDAs and cell phones, which they couldn't do before. They can put a kiosk in the foyer. They can build a Web presence directly from RPG."

Small Footprint, High Performance

Strategi SOA runs within a small footprint on a System i server and doesn't consume interactive resources. As a result, it should run on your existing System i server without the need for an upgrade. In addition, according to ADVANCED BusinessLink, applications running under Strategi SOA run faster than under any other Web application server.

Applications running under Strategi SOA are automatically distributed in nature. If you have a cluster of System i servers or LPARs, Strategi SOA can automatically "glue" them together to make them work as one big grid machine.

In addition to offering the Strategi SOA software, ADVANCED BusinessLink also provides consulting on two levels. One service helps organizations to build the business case for SOA. The other helps to construct a roadmap for the SOA rollout.

ADVANCED BusinessLink has found that, because programmers use existing skills to build services that run under Strategi SOA, the training requirements are minimal. Two education courses also are available from the company. A one-day course teaches system architects about service-oriented architectures. A three-day course teaches programmers how to build applications as a series of services rather than as a monolithic program.

ADVANCED BusinessLink's Strategi SOA is a member of the company's Strategi suite of products, which also includes solutions for Web-enablement and mobility. Founded in 1987 in Sydney, Australia, ADVANCED BusinessLink now has its headquarters in the Seattle, Washington, area, but the company maintains a sales and support office in Sydney, as well as in Paris, London, and Kuala Lumpur. The company has more than 500 customers in 22 countries. For more information, contact ADVANCED BusinessLink. Contact information is provided below.

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, a writer, and president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm, and author of BYTE-ing Satire. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst and then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
ADVANCED BusinessLink
5808 Lake Washington Blvd.
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