Oracle has big plans for its Application Integration Architecture.
Officials with the software vendor say the platform will eventually be a set of development standards and methodologies for Oracle, its customers and its partners. It also will be a way to efficiently bring together the many disparate applications under Oracle’s ever-expanding umbrella-and outside the Oracle pantheon, as well-in a way that Oracle’s Fusion Middleware hasn’t been able to do.
When Oracle announced AIA (Application Integration Architecture) at its OAUG (Oracle Applications Users Group) user conference in April 2007, the company first released a number of Process Integration Packs-distinct integrations between Oracle applications based on a specific business process, like the opportunity-to-quote process between Siebel CRM On Demand and Oracle E-Business Suite.
A little more than six months later, at its OpenWorld conference in November, Oracle announced the AIA Foundation Pack, the enterprise business objects, services, SOA [service-oriented architecture] governance tools and reference architecture that enable customers and partners to utilize AIA to integrate processes and build process-based composite applications.
Fast forward to February: Oracle is scheduled to release its Foundation Pack “any day now,” according to Paco Aubrejuan, vice president of application strategy at Oracle. However, the introduction of the Foundation Pack will bring a key question about AIA: Is it a product that can fundamentally change the way customers and partners build process integrations-and the way applications are developed within Oracle, as Aubrejuan suggests-or is it just another name for Fusion Middleware?
The answer may lie somewhere in the middle.
According to Oracle documents, the Foundation Pack provides users with a “proven reference architecture and reusable Web services allowing you to create integrations across any applications, leveraging a standards based, service-oriented architecture.” Minus the Web services, which Oracle had promised several years ago, the Foundation Pack could well describe Fusion Middleware. But there is a big difference between it and AIA, according to Aubrejuan.
“Fusion Middleware is absolutely the tool we use in AIA but just having a BPEL [Business Process Execution Language] engine doesn’t mean the applications we deliver work together,” Aubrejuan said. “You can code logic in BPEL but [unless there is] a common definition for -order,’ you haven’t abstracted any of that away. AIA is how we define objects, how to extend objects, what technology we use to do certain functions between applications. We’re changing fundamentally how the best-of-breed [applications] work. The important thing is not that we have best-of-breed, but that our customers have them.”
Oracles appetite for acquisition
Because of its massive acquisition appetite-Oracle has bought some 40-plus companies in about as many months-the company has found itself in a unique position. Oracle has rationalized its software purchases by promising customers a unified code base through Fusion Applications (the 1.0 version is expected this year).
In the meantime, it has built up its Fusion Middleware strategy and portfolio with a two-pronged approach: that Fusion Middleware would help companies integrate Oracle-and other-applications using SOA methodology, standards and technology; and that it would be the underlying platform for Fusion Applications, which would make it easier for customers using Fusion Middleware to migrate from their old applications to the next-generation suite.
However, the future-tense development strategy left customers in a present-tense quandary, according to Aubrejuan.
“[Customers said] help us, not by starting with the future, but by starting with what we have today. That’s really where AIA came into the picture-to define an architecture that standardizes how applications work together, so it’s not just technology but an application perspective,” he said. “So we very specifically defined business objects-common standard definitions-that allow customers to integrate not just Oracle applications but outside apps and homegrown apps.”
It’s a concept customers are thrilled about, though they admit that it’s a little vague.
“My understanding is that Fusion Middleware is the platform and AIA is the processes,” said Joshua Greenberg, project manager at Subaru of America, which has the E-Business Suite, Siebel CRM (customer relationship management), and G-log transportation management applications from Oracle. “My hope is that Oracle is going to provide that gratis. If you have a number of Oracle products than those integrations between the products … there’s a lot of value in finding those integration points. It’s easier to market, quicker to value and makes our users happier.”
AIA consists of a number of components, including an object library that defines representations of business entities like sales order, purchase order, item, invoice; business services that are Web service definition for performing a business task; and a reference architecture that includes two separate guidelines.
Analysts are less enthusiastic than customers
For SOA governance, Oracle includes a Business Services Repository, a catalog of objects, messages and services that comprise integration scenarios in the AIA ecosystem, and a Composite Application Validation System that provides a test environment for integration Web services.
Fusion Middleware, on the other hand, contains all the technology that puts AIA to work. A BPEL Process Manager, enterprise service bus, JDeveloper development tools, Business Activity Monitoring and process analysis tools, business intelligence and system monitoring tools, a Web services manager and Web services repository.
Analysts are less enthusiastic than customers, not so much about what AIA might be able to accomplish with process integration, but about its feasibility as a product.
“AIA doesn’t exist,” said Bernstein Research analyst Charles Di Bona.
With the growing number of disparate applications under the Oracle umbrella-Oracle just keeps adding to the list with more acquisitions-Enterprise Applications Consulting principal Joshua Greenbaum said the AIA strategy is more strategic internally than it is externally.
Greenbaum said that to be successful, AIA has to be “very extensive” with industry and data models that are “very, very fast” so that integration happens in as much a real time fashion as customers expect (versus batch type processing).
“Oracle definitely needs to get customers to buy this,” he said. “Without this piece of technology, the long-term strategy just doesn’t work. My understanding is customers are very interested. They’re saying, -Give it to us now, give it to us yesterday.’ Clearly there’s a demand. But if the product isn’t there today, there’s an execution issue.”
Aubrejuan admitted to initial stumbling blocks with the AIA strategy.
“The challenge we had at first is we only had Process Integration Packs,” he said. “The story is not the PICs themselves, but how it’s being done. We didn’t have the Foundation Pack. We were only talking to customers where they had a specific need-when they had to edge applications from us [that needed integration]. When I go and talk to customers, I spend most of time on AIA because it really helps them. Anyone with a global picture really understands.
“It’s getting there,” Aubrejuan said. “In five years [AIA] will be the only way things are built and deployed. Applications will be deployed from the middleware out. It’s still early days.”