|By Michael Blank||
|September 26, 2003 12:00 AM EDT||
Web services are moving from the latest buzzword to a mature and accepted technology. Mainstream companies such as Eastman Chemical, Wells Fargo, and NEC have begun deploying significant Web Services-Based Integration (WSBI) projects. Avnet Computer Marketing (Avnet CM) is one of many companies also betting heavily on Web services. This month, "Web Services in the Real World" describes Avnet CM's strategic foray into WSBI (see sidebar). We'll explore their business objectives, why they chose Web services for some parts of their architecture (and not others), and the results they achieved.
Avnet Computer Marketing (Avnet CM) markets enterprise technology products from the world's premier computer manufacturers and software suppliers. Customers include value-added resellers (VARs) and enterprise customers, and Avnet CM provides them with marketing support, pricing strategies, and supplier-relationship management. Avnet CM is an operating group of Avnet, Inc. (NYSE:AVT), a Phoenix, Ariz.-based Fortune 500 company. Avnet is a technology marketing and services provider, and one of the world's largest distributors of electronic components and computer products from industry leading manufacturers.
Avnet CM manages Avnet's Hall-Mark e-business portal that allows customers and suppliers to configure and place orders, retrieve real-time pricing and availability information for products, and view their order status.
To provide customers and suppliers with a broad range of online services, Avnet CM needed to connect the portal to various back-end systems using a variety of protocols and file formats. "Maintaining this growing number of proprietary interfaces became untenable and prevented us from being able to respond quickly to new market opportunities," said Bud Alexander, vice president of Enterprise Integrated Solutions. He wanted to build a responsive IT infrastructure that allowed him to
Alexander's strategy was to wrap applications with business-oriented WSDL interfaces, creating common business services, and then to pull data from multiple applications into one "Business Service Hub." (This is one of the usage patterns identified in the first article of this series, "Patterns in Web Services Projects"; WSJ, Vol. 3, issue 5). The goal was to consolidate interfaces and reduce the number of connections among systems. The architecture was required to maximize the potential for reuse, and the services had to be accessible from anywhere using any technology.
With this framework in place, Alexander hoped to reduce system integration maintenance by combining and reusing connections among systems. Such a model would speed integration by reusing Web service components that were already built.
Three integrated portal applications, each developed and maintained by separate teams, provide the following capabilities to Avnet's sales force, customers, and suppliers:
Avnet CM implemented the Business Service Hub with a Web services-based integration platform (see Figure 1). The portal applications communicate with this integration platform via SOAP to access data from the following back-end systems:
The architecture also includes trading partner gateways for processing orders. Avnet CM currently supports RosettaNet and EDI transactions, and is planning to add a SOAP gateway in the future.
Why Web Services?
Avnet CM used Web services between the portal and the integration platform for the following reasons:
These reasons for using Web services are consistent with why other companies said they chose Web services for integration (see "Why Web Services Work"; WSJ, Vol. 3, issue 7). Interestingly, Alexander did not use Web services for the entire project. Specifically, his team did not use Web services between the integration layer and the mainframe and CRM systems. Instead, they used adapters and native APIs. Here's why:
With Web services connecting several back-end systems with their portal applications, Avnet CM realized the following benefits:
In the future, Avnet CM will extend the Web services framework to its customers and suppliers. "Web services continue to be central to our IT strategy. The investment in our Web serviced-based integration platform allows us to take advantage of our IT investments and to deliver greater value for the company," concludes Alexander.
Companies like Avnet CM prove that Web services are maturing as an accepted technology. At the same time, it's clear that Web services are not the silver bullet to solving complex integration problems, either. The trick is figuring out when to use Web services, and when not to. Based on the ROI realized by Avnet and other customers profiled in this column, Web services, and the service-oriented architectures that support them, are increasingly becoming a key component of any successful company's integration strategy.
Avnet CM turns to Web Services
Customer: Avnet Computer Marketing is an operating group of Avnet, Inc. (NYSE:AVT), a Phoenix, Ariz.-based Fortune 500 company. Avnet is a technology marketing and services provider and one of the world's largest distributors of electronic components and computer products from industry leading manufacturers.
Challenge: Consolidate and standardize application interfaces; implement a service-oriented integration architecture to speed time to market.
Solution: Avnet's e-business portal allows customers and suppliers to configure and place orders, retrieve real-time pricing & availability information, and view their order status. Web Services-Based Integration (WSBI) feeds the portal with data from various back-end systems.
Why Web Services: Avnet chose WSBI primarily for three reasons:
- Reduced development and maintenance cost
- IT agility
- Faster time to market
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