Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow …
So begins one of my favorite Christmas songs. As it happens, I’m writing from Long Island and there’s a blizzard outside. The snow is blowing and the wind is howling. We’re expecting 12 to 18 inches, up to a foot and a half, of snow.
For those of you who are more comfortable with metric measurements, that adds up to one helluva lot of snow, more than enough to build a snow fort and to have an all-day snowball war, or at least until your mom comes out and starts yelling at you to come inside and have dinner.
But that’s not all … I spent a healthy chunk of my Christmas day piling logs on top of a fire in a cozy home with a real fireplace in a piney woods neighborhood somewhere in the northern suburbs of New York City.
To paraphrase another of my seasonal favorites, I just love that Christmas feeling …
So let me take this opportunity to wish all of you who, like me, observe and celebrate Christmas and cherish it as the most wonderful time of the year, a Merry and Joyous Christmas season. And to all, regardless of what holidays you may or may not observe, health, happiness, and good cheer throughout the coming year.
And what a year the last one has been! Business has begun turning around. I appear to have survived the Great Recession (knock on wood!), and actually got a modest raise and a bit of a bonus. My friends and colleagues of the last four years seem to be a little more secure in their jobs.
Even more exciting, I’ve committed to a major change in my professional life. I’ve joined a young company in Boston, TraceLink.com, and will help them build an integration platform in the cloud based on SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) principles.’
Buzzwords and Risky Business
There are some buzzwords in that last sentence, and also the assumption of a great deal of risk, particularly for a single parent responsible for an ambitious young son who dreams of university and graduate school. I’ve left a secure job that could probably keep me employed for years to come to gamble on an idea that may or may not succeed.
The idea is to deploy a collaborative platform on the web, with tight process integration, that will help pharmaceutical companies and their suppliers work together to gain visibility and control over contract manufacturing and inventory, tighten up their supply chain, and ultimately lower their costs.
Whether or not I’m still employed six months from now, this new job is an opportunity to explore the buzz behind the words and to finally begin to get a handle on what the “cloud” and “SOA” really are.
Not that I’m completely unfamiliar with the concepts. I’ve been working with virtual servers for more than two years. I built, configured, and patched several Sterling Integrator (SI 5.0) instances on virtual servers at my last job, including a disaster recovery system.
I had no problems connecting these virtual systems to SAP using the SI SAPSuite Adapter or to our trading partners through AS2, HTTP, FTP, SFTP, and even PGP encryption running from batch files at the operating system level.
I also built numerous complex interfaces between SAP and the outside world, including to a number of large banks, using the workflow and mapping tools in our SI DEV system and its virtual servers.
All these interfaces are now humming away without a glitch through our virtual SI PRD system.
It’s completely seamless and SI doesn’t give a feather or a fig that it’s running in a virtual environment built up from CPU’s, memory, and hard disk storage spread out and shared from a number of different physical boxes with varying levels of resources.
Just Another Server
The cloud is really not all that different, once you’ve stripped away the jargon and the inflated claims about computing nirvana as a service: virtual systems that somebody else outside your firewall builds and maintains for you and can quickly scale up as your business grows and needs more computing resources.
There is a little more to the cloud, of course, but that’s mostly for the systems folk to worry about. To me it’s just another server or environment: development, testing, and production. My attempts at application integration will work the same as if they were on a standalone or clustered box in my employer’s data center.
But now I have a ringside seat and will see up close what goes on under the hood when an application is deployed and run from the cloud.
And as for SOA … I’ve been working in an SOA environment for years. The Sterling Integrator workflow engine is an SOA-based platform. It is pretty well self-contained but can be exposed to the outside world through HTTP calls across the web.
It’s all about the workflow, the services, adapters and the connectors between them, each one a java object that you configure to call each other in a logical progression of actions that receive, identify, translate, and hand-off structured data packages to a trading partner or SAP system or ASCII file or to some other system or application call.
It’s all tied together through BPML (Business Process Modeling Language), a dialect of XML that, like BPEL (Business Process Execution Language), was developed specifically to build workflows that call program objects and connectors in a logically defined processing sequence that does something useful like move and convert data between different systems.
These Sterling program objects are all services that are consumed in their turn by another service. Each service knows, through configuration and run-time data passed to it dynamically by XPath statements, what it needs to do with the data it receives, whether it’s to transform it or store it or send it or pass it along to another service for some other processing step.
Sterling Integrator was my introduction to SOA processing. So I’ve done this before, even if I didn’t think in an SOA way. And now I’ll have the opportunity to participate in the design, development, and deployment of a full-fledged SOA platform that will integrate complete end-to-end business processes between trading partners.
And this is just the beginning. So I believe … I believe in Santa Claus … and I believe that this is going to be a very interesting year.