The Problem With Point to Point Interfaces

 

The average corporate computing environment is comprised of hundreds to thousands of disparate and changing computer systems that have been built, purchased, and acquired.  The data from these various systems needs to be  integrated for reporting and analysis, shared for business transaction processing, and converted from one system format to another when old systems are replaced and new systems are acquired.  Effectively managing the data passing between systems is a major challenge and concern for every Information Technology organization.

 

Most Data Management focus is around data stored in structures such as databases and files, and a much smaller focus on the data flowing between and around the data structures.  Yet, because of the prevalence of purchasing rather than building application solutions, the management of the “data in motion” in organizations is rapidly becoming one of the main concerns for business and IT management.  As additional systems are added into an organization’s portfolio the complexity of the interfaces between the systems grows dramatically, making management of those interfaces overwhelming.

 

Traditional interface development quickly leads to a level of complexity that is unmanageable.  If there is one interface between every system in an application portfolio and “n” is the number of applications in the portfolio, then there will be approximately (n-1)2 / 2 interface connections.  In practice, not every system needs to interface with every other, but there may be multiple interfaces between systems for different types of data or needs.  This means for a manager of application systems that if they are managing 101 applications then there may be something like 5,000 interfaces.  A portfolio of 1001 applications may provide 500,000 interfaces to manage.  There are more manageable approaches to interface development than the traditional “point to point” data integration solutions that generate this type of complexity.

 

The use of a “hub and spoke” rather than “point to point” approach to interfaces changes the level of complexity of managing interfaces from exponential to linear.  The basic idea is to create a central data hub.  Instead of the need to translate from each system to every other system in the portfolio, interfaces only need to translate from the source system to the hub and then from the hub to the target system.  When a new system is added to the portfolio it is only necessary to add translations from the new system to the hub and from the hub back to the new system.  Translations to all the other systems already exist. This architectural technique to interface design makes a substantial difference to the complexity of managing an IT systems portfolio, and yet it had nothing really to do with introducing a new technology.

 

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