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Monday, April 14, 2008

CEP: Taking SOA into the "Front Office"

Posted by Matt Rothera

SOA has become mainstream in today’s IT environments, with the promise of a more flexible and agile IT infrastructure. One area, however, that seems to have been left behind in this movement is the role of SOA in “front office” environments. We typically think of the “front office” in Capital Markets trading applications, but for the purposes of this discussion, I would like to expand the definition to include any environment that deals with real-time feeds or real-world, physical objects. What is the prospective role for SOA in providing infrastructure support for operations that are outside the traditional IT strongholds. For example:


  1. In the manufacturing industry, this includes the plant operational infrastructure, such as the assembly line or associated control systems. It could also be proximity to the physical location of inventory, perhaps tracked with SCADA or RFID technology.

  2. In the telecommunications industry, this includes the physical services that manage telephone calls. For traditional telecommunications providers, these would typically be central offices. For newer service providers, it means being close to the origination and termination of different types of communication (IM, Voice over IP, cable, e-mail).

  3. In the energy industry, this means getting close to the actual source of power generation and distribution, such as energy grids, gas pipelines, etc.

  4. In the gaming industry, this could be close to the actual gaming floor (slots, tables, etc.)

  5. In the defense industry, this could be close to the actual battlefield (personnel, equipment)

Due to the potentially large number of objects and the real-time information that is often generated, these types of environments have typically not been suitable for SOA-based infrastructures. Or they have required custom solutions to deal with the extreme real-time nature of their behavior. However, we see increasing interest in using complex event processing infrastructure as a “bridge” to a SOA based infrastructure that can help mediate between the two environments. This can take place in a variety of ways:


  1. Real-Time BAM – There are new opportunities to track business activity at a much finer-grained level, and correlate that information with reference data or long-running business processes that typically reside in the back-office. This new breed of applications helps provide deeper visibility than ever before, and allows business to respond more quickly to changing business conditions at the “source” of business activity.

  2. Event Filtering – As the “front office” environments become more intelligent with sensors, the volume and scale of events will dramatically increase. A CEP infrastructure will be able to take in these large and complex streams of information, and create meaningful business events which can be forwarded to the back-office through the SOA infrastructure. 

  3. Complex Control Operations -  As the “front office” environments become more intelligent, there is an opportunity to control these environments in response to changing business conditions. As events occur within the front office, the CEP infrastructure can take real-time, complex actions to control the devices, potentially within milliseconds of the actual event condition. CEP can also kick-off longer running workflows using BPM technologies, traditionally found in back-office environments. 

The CEP infrastructure can become a valuable piece of an overall SOA infrastructure by bridging the physical world (the “front office”) with the back-office, allowing organizations to create a more agile infrastructure that spans the entire enterprise. CEP can help traditional organizations build new, innovative applications that reside in front-office environments using proven, real-time infrastructure as the foundation.

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