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THE ENTERPRISE NEWSLETTER

Issue No 12:
TECHNOLOGIES FOR ENTERPRISE APPLICATION INTEGRATION (EAI) 

 Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) Technologies for Data Content Analysis™, Inter-Enterprise Data Integration™ and HyperRelational Analysis™ 

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Contents

Technologies for Enterprise Application Integration (EAI)


PERTH, AUSTRALIA – September 7, 2000: We discussed in the last issue that XML is not a silver bullet, but that it offers great benefit for Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) within and across enterprises if used effectively. This issue continues the theme. It discusses additional products and technologies for EAI. It also announces upcoming conferences and seminars that will assist you.

Clive Finkelstein
TEN - The Enterprise Newsletter

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TECHNOLOGIES FOR ENTERPRISE APPLICATION INTEGRATION (EAI)

One of the biggest problems facing enterprises today is the question of integration of application systems and databases within and across enterprises. These may be legacy databases and systems that were developed years ago for a specific purpose, and which are still being used very effectively in the enterprise. Or they may have been recently developed, but are difficult to integrate with other databases and systems that contain much the same data. These may all be redundant versions of the same data, each version of which must be kept up-to-date with any changes so that all data versions are current.

We have discussed in earlier issues that XML can be used to achieve real-time updates of these redundant data versions, using technologies such as Microsoft BizTalk and XML. In this issue we will discuss various technologies – including XML – that assist Enterprise Application Integration (EAI).

The first approach uses “Data Content Analysis for normalization of live databases or files, to reverse engineer third normal form data structures and database designs directly from the live data content. This can permit EAI to be achieved more effectively than by using the unnormalized databases and files. The second approach is based on XML, which is used to expose all aspects of databases, including business rules. This is called “Inter-Enterprise Data Integration”. The third approach analyzes the implicit relationships between tables that reside in databases developed by the enterprise, as well as databases developed by Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) vendors such as SAP, Baan and others. This is called “HyperRelational Analysis”.  

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Data Content Analysis

We have all encountered legacy databases and application systems that were developed many years ago, but the database design and application design were never documented. Or they were originally documented, but changes have since been made to the applications or the databases – yet those changes were never updated in the documentation. As a result, little is known today of the structure of those databases.

Of course it is possible to reverse engineer these undocumented legacy databases to determine their structure by using CASE modeling tools. These extract from the database catalog various details about the tables and columns that comprise those databases. With this knowledge of the database structure, legacy database designs can be integrated with other databases. They can then be reengineered for new database environments. But the problem becomes more complex when it is necessary to reengineer databases that were unnormalized for performance.

You know the problem. Many of these legacy databases did not store details about customers, or orders, or products only in the relevant Customer, Order or Product tables as normalized data. Instead these details were combined together in common tables as unnormalized data, hoping in this way to avoid perceived performance problems. This may indeed have enabled improved database performance, but it was achieved often at the expense of creating redundant data versions throughout the enterprise. The problem emerges when redundant data changes. For example, if a customer’s address is changed, or a product price is changed, each redundant data version has to be updated so that all versions reflect the same status of the data.

Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) brings all of these redundant data versions together, so that relevant customer, or product, or other details exist in only one place – yet can be shared throughout the enterprise. When a change occurs, the change then only needs to be made once. The single, updated data version is then immediately available at its latest status for everyone who is authorized to use it.

Now consider when both of these problems occur together: unnormalized data versions that are dissipated redundantly throughout the enterprise, plus an absence of documentation of those unnormalized database designs. To resolve this problem requires enormous expenditure of effort. Examining the database catalogs and the live data content – to infer data dependencies and so derive normalized database designs for EAI – is largely a manual task.

Fortunately new technologies are emerging to assist this analysis, based on the application of Data Content Analysis. Products such as Axio from Evoke Software (http://www.evokesoft.com/) analyze live databases to infer data dependencies. All of the data values in a column are first analyzed for data value consistency and data quality. For example, the same address column may have some rows that seem to be different – appearing as “100 Fillmore”, and also as “100 Fillmore Street”. When quality problems like this are detected, these different values can be changed so that only consistent data values exist (using only “100 Fillmore Street”, for example).

Many products are available to assist this data quality analysis. However Evoke Axio takes this analysis further. It also examines the data values in each row of a table to identify columns that are dependent on the values of other columns in the same row. This dependency analysis of data values identifies possible primary and foreign keys. It enables those columns to be normalized to third normal form (3NF). It eliminates data redundancy by deriving 3NF database designs and 3NF data models, working from the live data content of the database. The end result is the automatic generation of 3NF Data Definition Language (DDL) schema scripts to install the 3NF databases using appropriate Data Base Management Systems (DBMS) products. This in turn enables more accurate Enterprise Application Integration.

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Inter-Enterprise Data Integration

Another approach to Enterprise Application Integration is called Inter-Enterprise Data Integration. This is a technology that is used by infoShark (http://www.infoshark.com/). It is based on use of XML in their latest product: XMLShark. This enables rapid exchange of data between enterprise databases and internet-based users by generating relational XML data directly from legacy data sources. XMLShark enables XML data to be securely used, shared and exchanged on the Web and then parsed and returned to a corporate source.

XMLShark automatically scans existing data sources to understand their structure and underlying business rules, and then generates data mappings. This renders seemingly incompatible data sources instantly interoperable. Says Barbara Bouldin, CTO of infoShark: “XMLShark will broker, cache, and synchronize information via the Internet in real-time or batch, based on business rules as well as preserve the integrity and security of the data.”

The XML data generated by XMLShark is formatted in industry-accepted XML CARD (Commerce Accelerated Relational Data) Schema that contains both the data and the database structure. It converts relational data to and from XML. It translates the relational data in real-time to an XML-based information cache that enables the bi-directional exchange of relational data to the Internet, or anywhere in an enterprise.

InfoShark created the CARD schema to represent relational data and its metadata in XML.  This schema conforms to the current working draft of the W3C and according to infoShark has been accepted by BizTalk as a standard. CARD is freely available on numerous websites, including http://www.xml.org, http://www.biztalk.org and http://www.infoShark.com. 

Documents adhering to the CARD schema can provide all the necessary information to recreate relational databases and populate them with their data. This information includes such things as primary/foreign key relationships, indices, constraints, and native data types. This schema can be used by a business to provide a subset of a production database to business partners. It contains commerce-related information for pricing individual pieces of data contained within the document.  By setting a business value for information, companies’ data can be easily sold in an e-commerce environment. The main goal of the CARD schema is to provide a common language (complete with basic business rules) for a bi-directional XML-based information flow. 

For example, an Oracle constraint might be a rule such that a manager’s base salary must be a minimum of $75,000 per year but cannot exceed $100,000. 

    <checkConstraints>
        <checkConstraint name="cc_oo1" enabled="yes">
            <checkConstraintValue language="PLSQL">
                <![CDATA[salary >= 75000 and salary <= 100000]]>
            </checkConstraintValue>
                <columnLink   
                   columnLinkName="column.salesdata.mydatabase.
                           mydbschema.employee.salary"/>
        </checkConstraint>
   
</checkConstraints>

Data Content Analysis (described above for Evoke Axio) and Inter-Enterprise Data Integration (as used by XMLShark) are two examples of Enterprise Application Integration technologies. A third technology that approaches EAI from a completely different perspective is that of HyperRelational Analysis – used for Enterprise Integration Portals.

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HyperRelational Analysis

There is growing interest in Enterprise Portals, also called Corporate Portals. Quite distinct from Internet Portals such as Yahoo, an Enterprise Portal provides a single gateway to an enterprise that is tailored to the requirements of each individual. A general definition follows:

“An Enterprise Portal is a single gateway – accessed via the corporate Intranet, or via a secure Extranet used by customers, suppliers and business partners, or via the Internet – to the relevant workflows, application systems and databases – typically integrated using XML and tailored to the specific job responsibilities of each individual.”

For example, an Employee Portal enables employees to access the processes, the systems and the databases – via Intranet or Internet – that they need to carry out assigned job responsibilities, with full security and firewall protection.

Similarly a Customer Portal is a single gateway across the Internet, or via a secure Extranet, to details about products and services, catalogs, and order and invoice status for customers –  all integrated using XML and tailored to the unique requirements of each customer. It offers clear opportunities for customer personalization and management with one-to-one Customer Relationship Management (CRM). 

The problem however is in achieving a level of effective application and database integration so that the single point of access of an Enterprise Portal appears seamless. Each database to be accessed in this environment may have been originally designed for use by specific application systems. But they may not be easily integrated with other databases, as they were never required to work together. We discussed in earlier articles that XML could assist this Enterprise Application Integration. But another technology is also available: HyperRelational Analysis.

HyperRelational Analysis is a patented database integration technology that is used by TopTier Software (now part of SAP http://www.sap.com/) to analyze explicit and implicit database structures. It uses primary and foreign keys in a database catalog to analyze explicit relationships that are defined by primary and foreign key constraints. It analyzes these keys to identify other relationships that are implicit. It uses them to integrate dissimilar databases in an Enterprise Integration Portal”.

For example, if Table A is related to Table B and also Table B is related to Table C, then Table A is implicitly related to Table C. In another example, a relationship may be explicitly defined from an Order table to a Customer table based on a common key of Customer-Number. This same Customer-Number key may also exist in other tables in the database, and in other databases throughout the enterprise. HyperRelational Analysis thus identifies both explicit and also implicit relationships based on this common key.

Following this database analysis, TopTier then supports integration across databases by using a “drag-and-relate” access technique from their Enterprise Integration Portal interface. The power of this integration access is dramatic. For example, a Customer-Number or a Product-Number key value from an SAP R/3 database can be dragged by an end-user onto relevant Customer or Product tables in a Baan ERP database, or in its own databases. The result is direct access to details of that customer or product across different ERP vendor and enterprise databases.

Another example further illustrates this power. A Return-ID from a Shipping Return (with a foreign key of Shipment-Tracking-Number) is dragged by an end-user onto the Federal Express icon in a TopTier Enterprise Integration Portal interface – to drill down automatically to details retrieved from the FedEx web site of the FedEx delivery for that tracking number. The product CD provided by TopTier includes movies that dramatically show the jaw-dropping power of this technology in action.

We have all seen the double spread advertisement by SAP of a beautiful woman looking out from the page of a newspaper or magazine with four simple words: “You Can. It Does”. This refers to the flexibility of mySAP.com, a portal capability that was developed by SAP based largely on the power of TopTier HyperRelational Analysis. Flexible TopTier drag-and-relate database integration capability is an integral component of mySAP.com, and in other environments within and across enterprises. Information on mySAP.com and on TopTier is available from http://www.mysap.com/ and also http://www.toptier.com/.  

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AUTHOR

Clive Finkelstein is the "Father" of Information Engineering (IE), developed by him from 1976. He is an International Consultant and Instructor, and was the Managing Director of Information Engineering Services Pty Ltd (IES) in Australia. 

Clive Finkelstein's books, online interviews, courses and details are available at http://www.ies.aust.com/cbfindex.htm.

For More Information, Contact:

  Clive Finkelstein
59B Valentine Ave
Dianella, Perth WA 6059 Australia
 
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(c) Copyright 1995-2015 Clive Finkelstein. All Rights Reserved.


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