Connecting the Boxes

As we develop IT solutions, it is very easy to focus on the core elements: infrastructure, platform and application layers, and the big components such as storage and compute, ERP and middleware technologies. However, as we think about architectures and systems integration, focusing on the connectivity of the data and application is critical to a successful deployment and to satisfying both operational and regulatory requirements.

This focus on connectivity is particularly important as we move to modern, cloud-based applications. In today’s architecture we worry less about the basic interoperability of big components because the vendors typically have this well covered. Unless you’re trying to put the proverbial square peg in a round hole, your risk is low. As we look to make our applications more agile and consider moving workload from public cloud to private cloud or hosted solutions, and as we think about moving from testing to production, what we need to worry about more is the connection between data and applications. Is the line that connects these boxes well designed for today and tomorrow?

Consider the plumbing in your house. Would one type of pipe and fittings handle high and low pressure water, gas and oil-based systems? Fittings and pipe structure need to be designed specifically to ensure they integrate and operate with the appliances they connect. Now consider an IT architecture. Don’t confuse the lines that connect the boxes as being the network cables or network connection protocols. The OSI model handles these connections up to layer 4, typically in the infrastructure layer. The layers I want to focus on are those that deal with the data transportation between applications (layers 5-7), where the lines between the boxes are the protocols and APIs that connect the applications together.

These connections need to not only function as interconnections between applications but also take on the attributes of the overall solution. For example, if you are operating in a secure regulated environment, you must ensure you are using secure protocols (e.g., SSL, SFTP, HTTPS, SSH), making sure that data is encrypted as it moves between applications. Or if writing APIs, then Java with the Java Cryptography Extension (JCE) can be used to secure the data connections through encryption.

As part of the design when considering APIs and protocols, strive to future proof yourself. As we have seen in the Web space, RESTful APIs have become the protocol of choice. Risk is reduced around application integration, availability of skilled resources and support from the application vendors, providing flexibility and adaptability for future developments.

Consider a client looking to migrate from their legacy applications to new modern apps, migrating both platform and hosting to cloud-enabled solutions. A critical aspect is ensuring that connectivity for the migration itself and then the migrated operational components is enabled. Part of the success of most application modernisations projects is based on the ability to move and reconnect new applications and data sources into the legacy estates.

As we look forward we are already seeing products, both commercial and open source, that help solution designers interconnect their applications through common data connectors and APIs.  One to draw your attention to in the open source space is EzBake, developed by 42Six Solutions (a CSC company). EzBake is in the final stage of being launched. This open source project aims to simplify the data connectivity, federated query and security elements within the big data space.  There are already public cloud-based platforms that enable you to buy a service that connects your data source to a target through a common set of APIs and protocols. EzBake will likely sit in the private cloud space, focused on connecting big data applications and data stores, but the ability to make these application and data connections easily is usable across the IT landscape.

It all comes down to the line connecting the boxes. Ensuring that this is given as much thought and consideration as the data and applications when designing a solution will pay dividends, enabling your architecture to integrate and operate successfully. And with correctly chosen protocols, your solution will be future proofed for the next integration or migration project.

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