USi Finds SOA Key to Reusability
USi, an ASP (application service provider) based in Annapolis, Md., and a wholly owned subsidiary of AT&T, sought to streamline its software infrastructure to support greater reuse, bolster its workflow capabilities and enhance regulatory compliance. SOA seemed to be the best approach, according to Mike Rulf, vice president of advanced engineering at USi.
Moreover, USi created its SOA using the Oracle Fusion Middleware suite to integrate its disparate applications and automate application provisioning throughout its enterprise, company officials said.
USi provides hosted and on-demand software services for Fortune 1000 companies and must consistently enhance the value and security of its services while also pushing down costs. SOA is a way to ensure that, Rulf said.
The company focuses on two main areas. One is e-commerce: USi handles online retail operations for enterprise customers and hosts and manages their retail Web sites. Another space USi works in is running ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems for major enterprises, providing hosting services, and managing all technical and application support issues.
"And because we do a lot of work in the financial services sector, we have to deal with a lot of compliance issues, such as Sarbanes-Oxley," Rulf said. "That is part of what got us started on the SOA track."
Typically, a workflow system could help with satisfying compliance requirements by tracking steps taken to accomplish tasks, Rulf said. "But workflow doesnt do asynchronous communication well; BPEL [Business Process Execution Language] and SOA do," he said. "So we wanted to switch from traditional workflow and software development and move to SOA and Web services."
After the decision was made to go with an SOA environment, USi had to decide which approach to take for a solution: open source or proprietary, Rulf said. "Our decision was based on [whether] we do it via open source or via Oracle" because USi had an existing Oracle infrastructure, Rulf said.
USi used several components of Oracle Fusion Middleware to develop an SOA that has enabled the company to significantly reduce costs by automating business processes and streamlining regulatory compliance, while extending best practices around user provisioning and identity management out to its clients, Rulf said. Those components included Access Manager, Application Server 10g, BPEL Process Manager, Identity Manager, Internet Directory, JDeveloper 10g and Web Services Manager.
USi developed an SOA to integrate and simplify user provisioning for its internal business applications, which include Ariba and Oracles PeopleSoft Enterprise applications. Previously, provisioning users for each USi business application was a complex manual process that required several steps and dedicated resources to manage, Rulf said.
But by using Oracles SOA software, USi wrapped key components of its applications code to expose the components as Web services and then created BPEL processes linking the Web services to automate user provisioning and authentication and to streamline user name log-ons.
The result has been a significant reduction in resources required to manage provisioning and a single-sign-on model that allows employees to log in once but have secure, appropriate access to all the applications they use, Rulf said.
"Since its debut in early 2006, Oracle Fusion Middlewares hot-pluggable SOA Suite has gained remarkable momentum, enabling customers to use their existing IT assets to more rapidly move to a service-oriented environment," said Ashish Mohindroo, senior product director for Fusion Middleware at Oracle, in Redwood Shores, Calif.
Added Mohindroo: "USi serves as an example of how companies can easily plug Oracles SOA software into their Oracle and non-Oracle IT systems to integrate disparate applications and automate manual processes to increase agility and reduce costs."
After implementing its SOA internally, USi realized the business value of extending the solution to its clients, officials said.
As an ASP offering managed enterprise solutions for Oracle, PeopleSoft, Siebel and other applications, USi helps manage user provisioning and authentication for thousands of users across multiple enterprises. Thus, the internal challenges facing USi were multiplied with its clients.
In addition, to achieve compliance with various internal controls, USi had to provide auditors with proof that users were provisioned and de-provisioned correctly on each of the systems it hosts for clients. Oracle Fusion Middleware Suite helped in this area, as it featured many of the necessary checks already tied in to its Fusion Middleware solution, Rulf said.
For their part, USi developers had written Perl and shell scripts to drive integration of components across applications, Rulf said. "So we built these wrappers, where wed wrapper the scripts and turn them into Web services" to run in the USi SOA environment, Rulf said. "We take a Perl script and hook some APIs onto it as a wrapper, and then its tied in to the framework."
USi has an internal infrastructure system, known as Oasis, for handling event management and change control that features several integration points. "And were building out the components in Oasis to be exposed as Web services," Rulf said. Oasis comprises a series of open-source components, he said.
The companys use of the Perl dynamic language has also helped with reuse.
"We can take the same wrappers we are using internally and expose those Web services to extend all of the security weve built out to our customers," Rulf said. "It adds another layer of value to our service that no one else is offering."
USi delivers application outsourcing, remote management, professional services, SAAS (software as a service) enablement, and e-business development and hosting services to more than 150 enterprise organizations in more than 30 countries, officials said. USis SAAS enablement program allows ISVs to deliver their software to a larger client base through the companys hosted model, they said.
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Case File: USinternetworking, Annapolis, Md.
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