Integration brokers have become the great equaliser in getting diverse computing and application platform environments within the enterprise to hum harmoniously. A broker, a form of middleware, is the software component responsible for routing and transforming data and messages among disparate systems within the enterprise, systems that would otherwise be unable to communicate.
But the demands on enterprise integration have become increasingly complex during the past decade, with requirements that even the best-planned architectural strategy couldn't have averted.
Managing the transformation and routing of data among various packaged and legacy applications has IT administrators singing tales of woe as they become increasingly frustrated with the souring tenor of their infrastructure.
I sympathise because many companies still face a complexity of home grown messaging solutions (often called muddleware), a variety of data transport and messaging archival requirements, and even newcomer applications and platforms such as Microsoft's BizTalk Server.
Add to this the systems and applications inherited through corporate acquisitions and mergers, as well as integration requirements that increasingly involve intricate B2B connections with supplier and customer systems, and it can often seem overwhelming.
Each application includes a brokering implementation that may suit the specific application, but will either be too lightweight for brokering other traffic - for example, legacy applications - or carry hefty licensing fees along with steep start-up costs. The effort and expense of transforming the systems would mitigate any ROI advantage.
That's why many of the companies with which I come into contact are finding it more effective to simply accept the inevitable necessity of a multibroker environment.
Although the intricacies of the scenario may be less than ideal, managing the complexities of multiple integration brokers doesn't have to be.
The emergence of XML and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) into broker technologies will continue to foster a relatively transparent interchange that already benefits from the availability and variety of mature protocol supports.
Before embarking on a course for convergence, companies should carefully weigh the pros and cons of migrating to a single vendor's brokering solution. The initial attraction of a single solution might be easier management and reduced licensing costs, but factors such as the complexity of migration, importance of the application, and limited benefit to future integrations can often outweigh any actual cost-savings.