Architectural Overview - Sterling B2B Integrator

Sterling B2B Integrator’s architecture is built on a multi-level platform, which enables efficient development of new features. You can respond rapidly to business and technology changes with this design.

The Sterling B2B Integrator platform:

  • Supports a business process management approach to integration
  • Provides enterprise scalability, manageability, and security
  • Delivers non-invasive integration with pre-existing systems
  • Supports emerging e-business standards frameworks
  • Enables rapid change management and deployment
  • Enables multiple interaction styles
  • Offers a diverse, open-ended functionality set that you can extend in numerous ways
  • Facilitates interoperability of integrating software
  • Promotes widespread adoption of key industry standards
  • Enables data transformation and data management activities that are the cornerstone of your processes

The following figure illustrates Sterling B2B Integrator’s architecture.

DetailedArchOvervw
 

The figure depicts a Sterling B2B Integrator system using many B2B services and EAI adapters. Your configuration will use only the services and adapters that are required for integration activities. The figure also shows a mail box component and integrated human interaction points through Web Extensions, which you may or may not decide to employ.

The following steps explain the progress of a sample process moving through this architecture:

  1. A trading partner sends a document such as a purchase order through a B2B transport protocol (SMTP, EDIINT, FTP, or HTTP) to your organization, using the appropriate service.

  2. The arrival of the document triggers the business process you have configured for the document, and possibly, for this specific trading partner. The Business Process Engine manages the progression of steps in the business process.

  3. The business process de-envelopes the document to obtain instructional information such as routing directions, in addition to the body content of the document.

  4. Based on the data in the document, the business process progresses to the next step. This might include passing the document (through EAI adapters) into one or more internal applications such as:
    • A PeopleSoft™ order management system
    • A Web Extensions application (online form) for human interaction with the data, such as a manager’s review and approval prior to routing to the next step
    • An accounting system for credit verification, and then on to an order management system
    • A mailbox application to store the data until a scheduled time when the business process progresses to the next activity
  5. The process may end here or it may include additional steps, such as adapter-assisted interaction with one or more enterprise systems, to generate a response document to be returned to the trading partner, again using B2B transport services.

For information about the various components and features and the ways they interact, see the following topics:
  • For technical information about system design, see Sterling B2B Integrator Technical Framework
  • For information about the functions supported by the architecture, see Sterling B2B Integrator‘s Functional Framework

  • For information about the Business Process Engine, see Business Process Engine
  • For details about the core components of Sterling B2B Integrator, including B2B services, EAI adapters, and Web Extensions, see Fundamental Components of Sterling B2B Integrator

Sterling B2B Integrator Technical Framework

Sterling B2B Integrator is written in Java™ and can run in an application server-independent configuration or alongside an application server such as BEA WebLogic™, and JBoss™ products. Sterling B2B Integrator uses Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) adapters when you communicate with an application server.

Application server independence is a valuable configuration because:

  • It requires fewer product prerequisites, which may reduce your total costs.
  • It enables greater flexibility in deployment options.
  • It works well if you use J2EE application servers that Sterling B2B Integrator does not support, or if you have a policy of not deploying a different application server in any production environment.

There is no difference in the functionality between Sterling B2B Integrator used in an application server-independent configuration and Sterling B2B Integrator used alongside an application server. Integrating with an application server requires the use of an adapter (EJB adapter), which is included with the product.

The following display shows a simplified view of the system architecture:

vTechnicalFramework

Think of Sterling B2B Integrator as a standards-based business process management system consisting of a toolbox of integration components, on top of a J2EE infrastructure. The integration components include the mapper, Graphical Process Modeler (GPM), B2B services, EAI adapters, and Web Extensions. The J2EE framework enables many key aspects of the Sterling B2B Integrator system, including:

  • Standards-based interfaces for common middleware functionality
  • Support for multiple operating systems, including UNIX, Windows NT/2000, Linux, and IBM z/OS® and iSeries®
  • Load balancing
  • Fault tolerance
  • An advanced EJB object-oriented development and deployment environment that facilitates reuse of existing component software, easier change management, and easier application knowledge transfer
  • Scalable component clustering
  • Ability to create complex process flows

Functional Framework

The Sterling B2B Integrator framework uses a Business Process engine as its core transaction engine to support all data management, translation, transformation, and routing services.

This framework supports:

  • Advanced parsing, filtering, and content-based routing through the use of XPath parsing and filtering technology
  • A base set of services that you can use and extend as your requirements evolve and new technologies emerge (custom services can also be developed to support the unique requirements of your organization)

Other Sterling B2B Integrator foundation functions that complement the business engine are:

  • An administration layer that is a single point of access for configuring, monitoring, and managing the system and its integration activities
  • Tracking services that trace the flow of information even as a business process runs
  • Monitoring, which enables you to view business processes as they run
  • Logging, which records system events such as user interaction, administration, and the execution of business processes
  • Event notifications that provide alerts in response to events or exceptions, using mechanisms such as e-mail or pagers
  • Archival storage of business process data

Fundamental Components of Sterling B2B Integrator

The Business Process Engine, Services and Adapters, Graphical Process Modeler, and Mapping and Data Transformation Components are all fundamental components of Sterling B2B Integrator.

The Business Process Engine is the core component that supports the Sterling B2B Integrator business process approach to integration. The Business Process Engine enables high-performance flexibility, extensibility, and a consistent environment for deploying EAI, Internet B2B, EDI, and business process management projects.

The Business Process Engine is Java-based. For information about the technical framework of Sterling B2B Integrator, see Sterling B2B Integrator Technical Framework.

Integration Activities Performed by the Business Process Engine

The Business Process Engine performs integration activities, known as services.

Nearly any kind of activity can be a service in Sterling B2B Integrator. All such services achieve some predefined type of integration activity. Examples of service activities performed by the Business Process Engine include:
  • Communicating with external applications or middleware (using special services called adapters)
  • Performing data manipulations, such as translation, transformation, splitting, and joining
  • Routing data based on content or other criteria
  • Publishing data to interested subscribers, which may trigger a new business process or allow a running process to continue
  • Execution of one or more B2B protocols
  • Starting a business process
  • Performing operations on SQL (Structured Query Language) database tables
  • Enabling human interactions within an otherwise automated process

For more information, see Services and Adapters.

Understanding Business Processes

The services that the Business Process Engine runs are configured within defined business process models that you create and modify within the system.

A business process is a series of linked software (and possibly human) activities that accomplishes a business goal. The activities are called services, the modules of work that comprise business processes. The services must complete for a business process to run successfully.

A business process model can be a simple linear configuration, or contain one or more decision points requiring human or system determination of the next steps in the process.

In the following conceptual figure of a business process, an oval represents an activity, and a diamond represents a decision point:

vBusProcessFlow

The high-level process for creating a business process model involves:

  1. Analyzing your business requirements.
  2. Determining which services, adapters, and components you must involve to accomplish your goal.
  3. Configuring the services and adapters used in the business process.
  4. Testing the business process.
Business Process Modeling Language

The Sterling B2B Integrator Business Process Engine runs business process models that have been created using Business Process Modeling Language (BPML), which is an XML-based language for describing business processes. It was developed by the Business Process Management Initiative (www.bpmi.org).

You can create business process models in several ways:
  • Graphical Process Modeler (GPM).
  • A simple text editor

  • Any graphical editor that can export the XML format to Sterling B2B Integrator

Unless you are proficient in the use of XML and BPML syntax, use the GPM to create your business process models.

Business Process Flow

The Business Process Engine automatically selects the appropriate business process model to run when data enters the system through an input adapter. When an input adapter receives data from an external system, the Business Process Engine locates the appropriate business process or processes to call, and starts the process or delivers the incoming data to the appropriate process that is already running.

The following is an example of how the Business Process Engine executes the steps in a business process as a document progresses through Sterling B2B Integrator:

  1. Sterling B2B Integrator receives the business message or document through an adapter.
  2. The Business Process Engine determines which service to start next, and starts the service, according to the content of the document.
  3. The adapter places the message or document and other appropriate process state information in a queue for the appropriate service in the selected business process.
  4. The appropriate service retrieves the initial business process state information from the queue and processes the next step in the business process.
  5. Each service in the business process updates the business process state information, and creates a copy of the related data or pointers to the data for process recoverability.
  6. An adapter sends the modified business process state information, with the data, to a specific application.

For information about how the system maintains process state information, see Full Process Recovery.

A service is a set of instructions that the Business Process Engine uses to perform an activity in a business process. Adapters are services that connect the Business Process Engine and other system components to dissimilar systems and applications outside of the Sterling B2B Integrator environment.

Business processes can send, pause, retrieve, and fully interact with adapters.

Services and adapters are reusable—you can include them in multiple business process models.

Understanding Services and Adapters

Sterling B2B Integrator includes numerous services. Some are internal system services, while most are external and can be configured by users. Configurable services can be used in business processes for activities such as running pre-existing programs, ERP systems, Perl (Practical Extraction and Report Language) scripts, Java code, decision engines, defined subprocesses, or virtually any program. The interface includes wizard-driven configuration and deployment steps to make the setup simple.

There are three service types:
  • Internal - Accepts parameters and produces results, but does not directly interact with outside systems.
  • Input - Receives data from outside systems.
  • Output - Sends data to outside systems.

Input and output services are generally called adapters. The adapters connect to systems and applications outside of the Sterling B2B Integrator environment. Adapters can listen for remote calls and then start the business processes. They can be used to start business processes or at any point in the business process.

Another type of input/output service is a human interaction service. Human interaction services enable humans to interact with a business process; for example, using a Web browser to approve data as a step in a business process.

For a list of the functional types of services and adapters in Sterling B2B Integrator, see Service and Adapters Category List.

Standards, Foreign Language, and Data Type Support

Sterling B2B Integrator services are developed using industry-accepted specifications for data formats, communication protocols, workflow modeling, and security in order to maximize interoperability between systems and trading partners.

Supported standards include:
  • Internet transports
  • Cryptographic services
  • Document-enveloping formats
  • Document formats
  • Business process sequencing
  • Web services

Because Sterling B2B Integrator is built on a Java code base, and Java supports Unicode, which is a universal character-encoding scheme for written characters and text, the programs with which your processes will interact can be written in nearly any language. Virtually any file-based, message-based, or stream-based data type are also supported.

Adapters

Adapters either receive input from or provide output to outside systems. Adapters provide noninvasive integration with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Supply Chain Management (SCM), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), other packaged applications, enterprise applications, communication protocols, messaging solutions such as IBM WebSphere®, and databases.

The following process summarizes the way adapters work within a business process:

  1. The business process progresses to the application adapter step.
  2. The adapter calls a third-party application to perform an activity.
  3. The system records the modified state (context) of the process and related data.
  4. The business process continues to the next service or adapter.
Service and Adapters Category List
The following table lists Sterling B2B Integrator services and adapters according to the functional category they belong to:
Service and Adapters Category
Description
Application adapters

Connect to packaged business applications that are external to Sterling B2B Integrator, including ERP, CRM, supply chain management, and procurement software.

BPML activity servicesSupport the run-time execution of functions in a business process model.
Communication adapters

Enable Sterling B2B Integrator to send and receive messages using the standard Internet communication protocols.

Custom services

Developed and configured by your software developer to use with Sterling B2B Integrator.

EDI services

Transaction processing for EDI transactions, including de-enveloping, enveloping, and functional acknowledgment generation.

Internal servicesSupport the general run-time environment and are not user configurable.
Internet B2B standards services

Manage data from your firewall to your trading partners by running interoperable Internet business sequencing protocols such as EDIINT, SOAP, RosettaNet™ Implementation Framework (RNIF), and Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML).

Messaging adapters

Enable Sterling B2B Integrator to send messages to and receive messages from remote messaging queues

IBM® adaptersConnect to other IBM products.
System servicesSupport the general run-time environment (these are user configurable).
Translation servicesTranslate or transform data using maps created with the Map Editor tool.
Web Extensions services or “human interaction” services
  • Enable human interaction with business processes and support Web services technologies.
  • Directly start application function calls over the Internet.

Sterling B2B Integrator is flexible and enables you to determine what activities to configure as a service, a business process, or a subprocess. For instance, you could implement ebXML support in the form of multiple activities linked together in a business process, or write a single service. This flexibility ensures that you can easily adapt to new requirements.

You can create business process models by using drag-and-drop technology in the Graphical Process Modeler (GPM). The GPM depicts the services that you include in your business process models by using icons. Each icon translates into multiple lines of code.

Business process models define how the Business Process Engine executes the activities in a business process. Creating business process models for the system to follow is the central activity around which your operations are based on.

You can drag icons from a pallet of options representing the services and BPML constructions (such as choices, start and stop, and so on) that you require on to the workspace in order to create your business process model. When you save the business process model, the GPM converts the graphical representation into well-formed and valid Business Process Modeling Language (BPML).

For information about how the Business Process Engine runs business processes, see Business Process Engine.

Examples of GPM

The following figure shows GPM icons representing the beginning and end points of a business process model:

vStartEnd

The following figure shows some of the GPM icons representing specialized services:

someGPMicons

In the GPM interface, a simple business process model might look like this: