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Adapter Maintenance

Adapter maintenance needs to be planned just like any other software or application maintenance. Although adapters are logically part of a specific business application, they usually require additional maintenance due to the dependencies with other adapters, applications, and infrastructure. The types of changes affecting adapters include enhancements to business applications, operating system upgrades, hardware upgrades, database upgrades, and platform upgrades (such as JDK upgrades). It is important for project managers to keep track of all these parameters and plan adapter enhancements accordingly. As such, the three basic tasks of adapter maintenance include planning adapter upgrades, deploying adapter fixes, and managing related vendor relationships. The following sections take a closer look at these three tasks, and provide some guidelines on adapter maintenance.

Planning Adapter Upgrades

Because adapters are extensions of business applications, it is vital that adapters are always synchronized with changes and upgrades to application functions and databases. Some of the obvious challenges are when changes to one application can result in changes to adapters of other applications. This can happen, for example, when the database structure or the database model of an application drops elements and attributes. Not only the adapter of the changed application, but also adapters of dependent applications may need to be upgraded.

As a guideline, adapter upgrades should be analyzed with each release of the relevant application. The analysis should also cover adapter upgrades needed due to changes in other applications participating in the integration scenario. The planning activity should become a regular practice for project managers. One of the first tasks in any software and IT planning meetings should be integration planning, and it should involve adapters. Integration and adapters is not a one-time activity; it requires regular planning, analysis, and constant monitoring.

Deploying Adapter Fixes

Because adapters are primarily built to enable integration, applying fixes or patches should be done with more than normal planning. The impact of changes to adapters could be felt by other applications integrating with the adapter. For that matter, testing adapter patches with all other adapters involved in the affected integration scenario is very important. The regression test scenarios identified in the adapter QA plan are useful when deploying patches and fixes to adapters.

Project managers should plan for extra time and resources when conducting regression tests before deploying adapter fixes. This is especially required in a distributed environment in which adapters can be on servers connected by a WAN. Distributed IT teams should inform all other IT teams about adapter deployments and other administration tasks.

Importance of Vendor Relationships

Various integration products are available in the market. Some are message broker-based; others are application server-oriented. There aren't many adapter vendors yet, but the number of adapter vendors specializing in specific integration platforms (application servers, messaging platforms, and so on) and types of integration (data, Web service, process automation) is sure to grow rapidly.

Successful integration projects are partly dependent on close partnerships or relationships with technology vendors. Platform vendors continue to add significant support for integration. Major hardware and software vendors—including Microsoft, SUN, IBM, and others—have a comprehensive set of platform technology and services capable of supporting complex integration requirements. These platforms can host integration solutions such as adapters and integration brokers. On the other hand, business application vendors haven't been as aggressive in their efforts to support integration. Not surprisingly, most business software vendors, including ERP and CRM vendors, are likely to focus on better integration within their application modules and less on integration with other applications. The business integration issues faced by business application vendors are more complex and numerous when compared with platform integration issues.

For integration projects to succeed in the long term, it is vital that hardware, software, and infrastructure vendors share their product roadmaps, capabilities, and strategies more openly than before. Customers and end-users need to plan their integration strategies by working closely with their vendors. Without the visibility of the vendors' plans, customers will be forced to react to integration requirements instead of proactively planning to resolve integration issues. Corporate IT managers and development managers should actively seek closer partnerships with vendors, and include long-term information sharing as a prerequisite to acquiring new software and hardware technology.

A typical corporate IT department is likely to deal with various type of vendors, including application package vendors, hardware vendors, integration vendors, service providers, and so on. Each vendor will have a specific approach and visibility to integration issues and solutions. It is important to define a corporate integration strategy that fits the corporate technology and vendors supplying and supporting the technology. Integration is not a problem that can be solved in isolation.

One of the benefits of partnering with an adapter vendor is the consistency in adapter technology across platforms and business applications. Without a consistent adapter management environment, it will be almost impossible to manage the complex integration scenario. Adapter vendors are also more likely to better understand the challenges of adding integration features to applications. The motivation for adapter vendors should be to provide adapters independent of integration infrastructure, thus providing their customers the freedom to select infrastructure matching the business and budget requirements.

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