Will AS4 Become the Communications Standard for Cloud Based Integration Services?

2010 has certainly been the year when Cloud Computing has started to get on to the agenda of many CIOs around the world. Nearly every major ICT related conference discusses Cloud Computing in some shape or form, whether it is to do with the infrastructure to support it or the applications that run within the cloud environment.

In early November I attended the 112th EDIFICE plenary in Amsterdam which was hosted by Cisco.  EDIFICE is an industry organisation that helps drive the adoption of B2B standards and processes across the High Tech industry. I always find these plenary sessions useful for learning about the latest High Tech industry trends and one that caught my eye at this session was how Cisco’s was deploying an AS4 based environment called Web Services Externalization (WS-X). WS-X essentially acts as a gateway supporting different message formats and has the ability to route requests to the relevant service providers. The framework utilizes a number of modules from Apache including Axis2/Java an open source SOAP implementation, Sandesha reliability module and Apache’s Rampart, security module.

Now I have been at GXS for nearly five years and in that time I have seen a lot of interest in AS2, primarily amongst our retail customers and some of our manufacturing customers have implemented AS2 as well. A few years ago I heard that AS3 was on the starting blocks and was going to be the next big thing but for one reason or another it doesn’t seem to have seen widespread adoption, well at least compared to AS2 anyway. AS3 even promised the capability to transfer large files across the internet however even this feature didn’t help it gain momentum in the market. My colleague Steve Keifer wrote a blog entry in 2008 giving his views as to why AS3 had failed to achieve widespread adoption.

AS2 had one advantage over AS3 in so much as the world’s largest retailer, Walmart, decided to standardize on AS2 for all their trading partner communications.  At that time trading partner communications via the internet was receiving a lot of interest from many retailers and Walmart decided to take the initiative to try and standardize on an approach for its deployment across their business. To date AS3 has not really had this level of interest and I think it is really a solution looking for a problem. But now AS4 is here and you may be asking should companies take an interest in this when AS3 failed to gain any significant market traction?

Well I guess it is all about timing. With so much interest in everything Cloud at the moment, companies are starting to look at ways of not only deploying enterprise applications up to a cloud based environment but also looking for ways to provide integration to other cloud based services, whether they are private or public clouds.  AS4, with its web services capabilities has the potential to become the cloud based communications standard moving forwards.

AS4 is quite similar to AS2 in many ways however it operates within a web services context and unlike AS2, AS4 has enhanced interaction patterns and acknowledgement receipts. AS4 has the following characteristics:

  • Provides acknowledgement receipts thus enabling reliable message delivery and retry in the event of a lost message
  • Provides password authentication, digital signatures and encryption , confirms authenticity of the sender and ensures that the message is unaltered whilst in transit
  • Offers  large file compression and transfer support
  • Error generation, reports any errors to the message sender of the message receiver
  • Message exchange patterns, allows a rich variety of interactions between the sender and receiver

Many companies today use a variety of communication protocols when exchanging B2B documents with their trading partners. AS4 adopts the ‘just enough’ design principle and defines a lightweight profile based on ebMS3.0. The light weight nature of AS4 means that it is a relatively low cost communications standard to implement and is therefore ideal for use with trading partners based in emerging markets for example.  Trading partners in these regions typically have limited technical capabilities. Many high tech suppliers are establishing a presence in the ‘new’ emerging markets of Vietnam and Thailand.

As mentioned previously AS4 has the potential to become the standard for inter-cloud integration.  From an integration perspective there are two key layers that make up an integration stack, these are the messaging layer and the payload layer. To achieve cloud interoperability Cisco is of the opinion that AS4 is the appropriate standard for the messaging layer. Cisco strives to use industry standards where possible and in order to support transactions with high tech trading partners the payload layer may use either OAGIS or RosettaNet PIP standards.

A key challenge in cloud computing is the interoperability among various cloud providers. This will continue to be a challenge until interoperability requirements are standardized to support business exchanges.  AS4 helps to address this challenge for the messaging layer. The combination of standardized transports and message content will help facilitate critical adoption levels, continuing to drive down costs, and improve time to capability for business exchanges over the internet.

Cisco is the one of the first companies that I have heard of that is actively using AS4 and as with the Walmart effect caused by their AS2 supplier mandate I wonder if Cisco will help to see wider adoption of AS4 in the High Tech market space?, especially given their position in the market of setting up data centres for hosting cloud based infrastructures.

If nothing else AS4 is perfectly timed to meet the challenging needs of integrating cloud based services.  You can find further information on AS4 at Drummond’s website, click here >>>

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