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Iona's recent acquisitions of C24 and Logicblaze has already borne fruit with the arrival of the latest version of its SOA infrastructure suite, Artix 5.

According to the company's chief scientist, Sean Baker: "This is the closest yet that the company has come to producing a suite, yet remains totally technology neutral. It is an open, extensible collection of tools that users can choose from as required."

The company claims it is one of the most flexible SOA infrastructures available, in that it is not based on a technology stack. "Most of the major technology vendors what to sell customers as much of their technology stack as possible," Baker said. "We do make a point of not going in to customers and saying that stacks are bad, but we do wait until they get to the point where they themselves think stacks are bad."

The latest release has improved the performance considerably, the earlier version have been a tad power consumptive at times. This has been improved significantly with Version 5. The worst case improvement is around 30 per cent, while the best has been a 300 per cent improvement in the number of messages being managed.

This has come, in part, through more extensive collaboration with customers using real test data. But it has also been the result of work on the Java side.

According to Baker, this is the first pure Java-based implementation of Artix. Previously, the core of the system was always written in C++ - and there is a full C++ implementation available as well. "Java's performance is now comparable to C++ because it is now doing on-the-fly compilation," he observed.

There are also major mainframe performance improvements, not least through the replacement of a single pipe into each individual application with a pool of pipes that are allocated as required. The single pipe approach was found to be a bottleneck when applications were operating under high demand.

It continues to be plug-in based, with users able to build infrastructures to suit their specific requirements by choosing which plug-ins they need for their environments rather than having to take a complete plug-in stack. "In addition, Artix is dynamic, allowing plug-ins to be changed, or new plug-ins to be added as and when required, on the fly," he said.

There is a new Repository in Artix 5. "This is a very different beast to most of them, in that not only does it understand services, but it understands how services relate to the underlying platform. So users can do things like write rules that say 'no service can exist without having security at such and such a level, or that is implemented in such and such a way'. It would then be illegal to register one that broke the rules."

The Repository can also understand how to deploy a service, where it learns the process adopted to deploy it. This can subsequently be used to allow services to be deployed at the touch of a button. He acknowledged that this could be used for automatic service deployment, though he suggested it would be difficult to write the associated rules which make that possible.

Despite Iona already having Celtix, an open source ESB offering for mid-sized and low-end companies - with Artix aimed at the enterprise market – Baker does see it having long term potential in the SMB sector, particularly through the systems integrator channel. Here, SI's could readily take an existing, heterogeneously mixed infrastructure in a customer's business and turn it into a service-based environment.

"Many current solutions in this space are technology specific – working to get application A to integrate with application B," he suggested. "But why not get them properly service enabled so that they can talk to anything, including raw Java sitting over here or the mainframe sitting over there."

C24's data integration capabilities have been exploited in Artix 5 to operate above the level Iona normally gets involved, providing the transformation of the payload, the actual data itself. This is where the data itself is required to change format.

The company has also developed its own long-standing development tool, IDL-Gen into a new tool called WSDL-Gen (for 'Generator') which can generate either Java or C++ applications from a WSDL definition. This means it can generate a full-blown client and a full-blown server with full test data. It is also documented so that users can enter their business logic in appropriate places.

"This means that users can build their applications incrementally, while the testing is being done for them, because the test case is being generated and exercised by the tool. And where business logic has not yet been entered the tool is generating random representative data so the client thinks good data is coming back."

He's not absolutely sure, but he feels certain this is the first SOA to support the REST style of programming. "This is a different way of doing distributed computing – it is a religion, and there is a bit of a war going on this space at the moment. We just thought we should support both. It wasn't very hard. If you can support an application-specific set you can support a fixed set, its no big deal." ®

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