Cast Iron Systems' iA3000

Cast Irons' EAI appliance offers a full palette of activities, including Web services and SAP connectivity--all at a lower cost.

April 5, 2006

5 Min Read
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Originally published online in another form

No matter what technology you're considering as part of your service-oriented Architecture (SOA) implementation, you'll still have to undertake mundane data integration tasks. Whether you're a midsize organization that needs a full data integration solution, or a large enterprise working on a department-level integration project, Cast Iron Systems' Application iA3000 3.3 can reduce the complexity, time and costs associated with the job.

Unlike conventional EAI products, such as those from BEA Systems, IBM, TIBCO Software and webMethods--which require extra configuration to integrate an RDBMS, added licenses to communicate with enterprise applications, such as those from SAP, and can cost more than $250,000--Cast Iron's $125,000 iA3000 is a self-contained appliance with true out-of-the-box integration capabilities.

There's no need to copy JAR files or configure ODBC DSNs with the iA3000; simply point it at an RDBMS, give it the proper credentials, and the appliance can instantly communicate and integrate the resource into an orchestration. This is the evolution of integration, if not revolution.

Cast Iron Systems iA3000 offers a full palette of activities, including Web Services and SAP connectivity.

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The iA3000 is a 1U integration appliance sporting four 10/100/ 1000 Ethernet ports--one for management, one for data connections, and two for supporting high-availability configurations. The iA3000, which ships this month, runs atop a stripped-down Linux OS, with Cast Iron software controlling every aspect of the device for nearly hands-off management.

I racked a beta version of an iA3000 in NWC Inc.'s data center in Green Bay, Wis., and let the device acquire its two required IP addresses, one for management and one for data. A quick login at the console showed the addresses and, after that, all administration, including network configuration and SNMP management, was easily accomplished through the enhanced Web Management Console (WMC).

All at Your Fingertips

I installed Cast Iron's Java-based Studio 3.3 on a desktop and was immediately struck by the improvements of the iA3000's design-time environment. A full palette of activities were available, such as integration tasks, flow control and configuration options, as were a number of basic XSLT functions. Studio's orchestration process has been significantly streamlined. The integration task activity, as well as all others, can be dropped onto the canvas of an orchestration and configured in any order, making the process feel like a business-process modeling exercise.

Good

• Streamlined orchestration process• Supports SAP IDocs and RFC out of the box• Consumes and produces Web services

Bad• Manual creation of triggers and sequences• Lacks support for open-source RDBMSs• Minimal statistics and reporting featuresCast Iron Systems iA3000, $125,000 www.castironsystems.com

I created an orchestration in which the iA3000 provided a Web service interface to an integration involving NWC's Oracle 9i, two external Web services produced by .Net and BEA's AquaLogic Service Bus 2.1, and NWC's Exchange mail server.

The goal of the integration was to poll a table in Oracle and, when an order was entered, have the orchestration insert a record into NWC's shipping table in the SQL Server 2000 database. A second orchestration would then poll the SQL Server table and, when a record was inserted, update the original order in the Oracle table with an appropriately generated shipment date.

In less than a half hour, my orchestration of this integration--touching four different systems--was ready for deployment. This process is now similar to solutions from competitors, and is a vast improvement over Cast Iron's previous capabilities.

Cast Iron provides top-notch support for all the major RDBMSs, including DB2 (AS/400 and UDB Informix, Oracle, SequeLink, SQL Server, and Sybase, out of the box. My only complaint is that there is no support for open-source databases.

The iA3000 also supports FTP, e-mail (sending and receiving), Web services (consumer and producer), MQ Series, HTTPS, and, new to this version, SAP IDocs and RFC, and also allows externalization of all configuration options for supported protocols--particularly hostnames and credentials. After publishing an orchestration to an iA3000, these variables can be changed to target the appropriate instance, easing lifecycle management of integrations.Moving from staging to production becomes a simple task of publishing the orchestration, modifying the configuration, and hitting the deploy button. Creating the requisite triggers and sequences in target databases is still manual, and I needed to do it twice--once for Oracle and once for SQL Server--before deploying one of the orchestrations I built.

Statistics for orchestrations are minimal and provided only at the orchestration level. After deployment and running a few orders through NWC's order entry system, I was able to correlate orchestrations involving that order ID, but not as easily as I would have liked, and global search is not yet possible.

The iA3000's price tag initially seemed high but, compared to software-based EAI products, the iA3000 is actually a bargain. There's very little system management required--the device manages its disk, memory, and internal systems automatically--and the hardware is internally redundant. Considering that I was able to orchestrate three completely separate processes, involving five different systems within NWC, in less than two hours, Cast Iron's iA3000 is worth every penny.

Lori MacVittie is a Network Computing senior technology editor working in our Green Bay, Wis., labs. Write to her at [email protected].

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