SOA and Cloud Services Within Your Budget


The hardships affecting today’s economy present new challenges for organizations. Interdepartmental budgets are being cut, and large purchases are being carefully scrutinized. Costly enterprise software and mainframe computing systems that once held promise are being reconsidered on a global scale in favor of more agile, component-based systems that cut costs and increase efficiency with forward-thinking concepts like Service-oriented Architecture (SOA) and cloud computing. These architectural concepts incorporate modern technologies and object-oriented approaches to solve real-world technology issues in complex environments while decreasing maintenance, integration, and deployment costs with modular design and component re-use. The Altova MissionKit is a highly affordable toolset uniquely suited to address this shift toward more flexible and lightweight infrastructure. With strong support for XML, UML, databases, and data integration technologies, the MissionKit offers all of the tools necessary to build agile architectures replete with repeatable services, reusable components, and scalable resources.

SOA & Cloud Computing

SOA and Web/cloud services are two of the strongest buzzwords in technology today. Though they have some clear differences, both of these concepts represent a paradigm shift from large-scale enterprise systems to service-based architectures built on modular components and reusable functionality. The SOA approach aims to help organizations respond more quickly to business requirements by packaging processes as a network of interoperable and repeatable services. This modularity creates system flexibility and gives developers the agility required to build new capabilities into the current system as needed – without reinventing the proverbial wheel. SOA is essentially a series of interconnected and self-contained services, the functionality of which is dynamically located and invoked based on certain criteria, communicated in messages. At the heart of SOA is a high level of component reuse that drives down costs and increases efficiency in a fully scalable architecture. Cloud services build upon the concept of interoperable services, adding a virtualization component to help relieve internal servers from being overtaxed by the constant reuse of these services within the system. This paradigm uses the Internet and Internet-enabled technologies to increase performance and processing speed by storing information permanently in the "cloud" and caching it only temporarily on client machines. Cloud computing implementation is a powerful option for increasing system capacity and capabilities by leveraging next-generation data centers in combination with the World Wide Web. Both SOA and cloud computing seek to alleviate problems created by inflexible architectures that rely heavily on tightly coupled enterprise application infrastructure. This focus on interoperability and independent software services reveals a distributed solution that is event-driven, flexible, and cost conscious in almost any setting.

Anatomy of a Service-based Architecture

Since their inception, XML and Web services have been continuously gaining notoriety as the standards of choice for secure, efficient, and platform-independent data exchange between software applications and over the Internet. XML provides the foundation for the protocols that power Web services infrastructure: WSDL (Web Services Description Language) and SOAP, an XML-based messaging standard. Web services are hardware, programming language, and operating system independent, meaning that they are duly amenable to the seamless and interoperable exchange of data over a network and uniquely suited to component-based systems. Web services architecture Web services architecture Both SOA and cloud-based architectures generally rely on WSDL to describe interaction and functionality and locate operating components within the system. WSDL works hand-in-hand with SOAP, a messaging protocol used by the client application to invoke the methods and functions defined in the WSDL description. The example below is the stock quote example used in the W3C WSDL specification and describes a simple, single operation service that retrieves real-time stock prices based on ticker symbol input. Of course, most services that exist within enterprise architectures are far more complex. Graphical WSDL editor Take, for example, the publicly available Amazon Web services, which provide accessible Cloud services and infrastructure to a growing number of companies worldwide, including Twitter, SmugMug, and WordPress.com. These services essentially allow independent organizations to rent some of the immense power built into the Amazon distributed computing environment and add the same scalability, reliability, and scalability to their online presence at a fraction of the price. The much anticipated Windows Azure from Microsoft® operates on a similar model, giving developers the opportunity to build and deploy cloud-based applications with minimal on-site resources. Amazon provides a WSDL file that contains the definition of the Web service, the requests that the service accepts, and so on. Developers can then write a SOAP-based client application that invokes the Amazon Web service for the functionality it provides. (At this time Amazon provides a number of Cloud-based services for application hosting, backup and storage, content delivery, e-commerce, search, and high-performance computing.)

Altova MissionKit

Recently named "Best Development Environment" in the Jolt Product Excellence Awards, the Altova MissionKit is a diverse set of software tools that provides scalable options for leveraging your current software assets in an SOA or cloud-enabled environment. Strong support for XML, Web services, data integration, process automation, and databases, as well as accessibility to powerful APIs give developers flexible options for creating service-based solutions and an affordable alternative to costly consultant fees, extract/transform/load (ETL) tools, and/or enterprise service bus (ESB) products. The Altova MissionKit* supports end-to-end Web services development and includes a graphical WSDL editor, visual Web services builder, advanced capabilities for managing WSDL and other XML file relationships, a SOAP client and debugger, WSDL data integration, code generation, and more. Together, all of these features provide a robust solution for integrating disparate services and systems in a distributed computing environment, whether the components be in-house, network, or Cloud-based.

WSDL Editor

The XMLSpy XML editor provides a graphical interface (GUI) for designing and editing WSDL documents. The structure and components of the WSDL are created in the main design window using graphical design mechanisms (with tabs allowing users to toggle back and forth between text view), and additional editing capabilities are enabled from comprehensive entry helper windows. Users can easily create and edit messages, types, operations, portTypes, bindings, etc., inline. In addition, publicly maintained WSDL files like the Amazon Simple Storage Service, or Amazon S3, (below) can be opened instantly using the Open URL command in XMLSpy. WSDL editor Amazon Web services XMLSpy’s WSDL editor gives developers a sophisticated environment for rapid Web services development, managing WSDL syntax and validation through an intuitive, drag and drop graphical interface. The addition of a documentation generation feature makes it possible to share the complete details of a Web service interface with non-technical stakeholders in HTML or Microsoft Word.

SOAP Client

SOAP requests can be manually created in XMLSpy’s SOAP client based on the operations defined in the WSDL. Once an operation is selected, XMLSpy initiates the request based on the connections provided in the WSDL and displays the XML syntax of the SOAP envelope in the main window. The message can then be sent directly to the server for an immediate response. SOAP client for Web services

SOAP Debugger

XMLSpy also includes a SOAP debugger, which acts as Web services proxy between client and server, enabling developers to analyze WSDL files and their SOAP message components, single-step through transactions, set breakpoints on SOAP functions, and even define conditional breakpoints that are triggered by a stated XPath query. SOAP debugger

Building Web Services

Once a WSDL definition is complete, it can also be visually implemented using MapForce, Altova’s any-to-any data integration tool. MapForce gives users the ability to map data to or from WSDL operations and then autogenerate program code in Java or C#. Tight integration with Visual Studio and Eclipse makes it possible to then compile the code within either of these IDEs and deploy the service on the client machine. When you create a new Web service project by specifying a Web services definition file (WSDL), MapForce automatically generates mapping files for each individual SOAP operation. MapForce project The SOAP input and output messages can then be easily mapped to other source data components (XML, databases, flat files, EDI, XBRL, Excel 2007) to create a complete Web services operation. Data processing functions, filters, and constants can also be inserted to convert the data on the fly. Web services mapping MapForce can autogenerate Web services implementation code in Java or C# for server-side implementation, and it is also accessible for automation via the command line.

File Relationship Management

For complex Web-based applications that include a large number of disparate files and project stakeholders, the MissionKit offers an advanced graphical XML file relationship management tool in SchemaAgent. SchemaAgent can analyze and manage relationships among XML Schemas, XML instance documents (SOAP), WSDL, and XSLT files. The client/server option enables any changes to be visualized in real time across a workgroup. Managing XML files This gives organizations the ability to track and manage their mission critical SOA files as reusable individual components, reducing development time and the occurrence of errors.

Data Integration

A key factor of any SOA is the ability for disparate systems to communicate seamlessly via automated processes. As an any-to-any graphical data integration and Web services implementation tool, MapForce facilitates this undertaking with support for a wide variety of data formats including XML, databases, flat files (which can be easily parsed for integration with legacy systems with the help of the unique FlexText™ utility), EDI, XBRL, Excel 2007, and Web services. MapForce data mapping in Visual Studio MapForce supports complex data mapping scenarios with multiple sources and targets and advanced data processing functions. Transformations can easily be automated via code generation in C#, C++, or Java, or the command line. Full integration with Visual Studio and Eclipse also makes this an ideal development tool for working in large-scale enterprise projects – without the heavy price tag. This gives developers a flexible and agile middleware component that can work in virtually any service-based architecture. The ability to integrate disparate data in on-the-fly is a key requirement in real-world enterprise and cross-enterprise systems where legacy systems and other less flexible formats co-exist with XML and other modern, interoperable standards.

Database Management

Even in the rapidly evolving semantics-driven macrocosm that is Web 2.0, most companies still use one or more relational databases to store and manage their internal data assets. The Altova MissionKit supports working with the most prevalent of these systems (see listing below) in a wide variety of different ways. Database support is offered in XMLSpy, MapForce, StyleVision, and, of course, DatabaseSpy.

  • Microsoft® SQL Server® 2000, 2005, 2008
  • IBM DB2® 8, 9
  • IBM DB2 for iSeries® v5.4
  • IBM DB2 for zSeries® 8, 9
  • Oracle® 9i, 10g, 11g
  • Sybase® 12
  • MySQL® 4, 5
  • PostgreSQL 8
  • Microsoft Access™ 2003, 2007

DatabaseSpy is a multi-database query, editing, design, and comparison tool that allows users to connect directly to all major databases and edit data and design structure in a graphical user interface with features like table browsing, data editing, SQL auto-completion entry helpers, visual table design, content diff/merging, and multiple export formats. In a service-based architecture, the ability to compare and merge data directly in its native database format is an enormous asset to developers who need to locate changes, migrate differences, or synchronize versions of database tables across test and live environments. Database tool and SQL editor   As a component of the MissionKit, DatabaseSpy gives disparate groups within organizations the flexibility to work with data from multiple databases in one central interface simultaneously. Whether this data is eventually integrated into other systems or applications or lives permanently in the database, DatabaseSpy provides a simple and flexible solution to managing and maintaining massive data stores.

Single Source Publishing

In today’s world of highly automated data transfer and management, it is still necessary for human readers to ultimately consume the data in some format or other. Of course, the problem that organizations often run into is what format to publish to. XML and single source publishing have revolutionized content management, document exchange, and even multilingual communications by separating content structure from appearance. An XML-based documentation system can greatly reduce costs through facilitating ease of conversion for delivery to many different data formats and types of applications. The single source concept ensures that workflow processes (i.e., conversion, edits, etc.) do not have to be repeated or reworked – that all content in the repository requires only minimal restructuring and promotion before being loaded to respective applications for delivery. Altova StyleVision is a graphical stylesheet design tool that enables users to easily apply single source publishing to XML, XBRL, and database content, without having any affect on the source data. In this way, companies can create reusable template designs for data that can then be rendered automatically in HTML, RTF, PDF, Microsoft Word 2007, and even an Authentic e-Form for immediate publication to any conceivable medium without any process disruption – resulting in the presentation of accurate, consistent, and standardized information in real-time. StyleVision stylesheet designer Single source publishing gives organizations the ability to add a human component to their highly automated data processing workflows, enabling them to view transmission reports at any stage. For example, in a world where compliance management plays such a large role in day to day enterprise operations, StyleVision can be integrated into any SOA to provide a sort of visual audit trail for manually reviewing XML, XBRL, and database transactions. StyleVision’s template-based approach to stylesheet design makes it an ideal addition to a distributed development environment, where repeatable processes are an integral part of the system’s overall efficiency.

Conclusions

Financial downturns can make investing in technology a difficult decision. However, forward-thinking organizations will find that focusing on restructuring the legacy assets they already have in place, automating internal processes, and adding virtualization layer to their application infrastructure can lead to increases in efficiency, speed, and potentially enormous ROI. The Altova MissionKit gives businesses all of the tools that they need to augment their enterprise architecture with iterative, process-driven solutions that will recover costs through the reuse of current assets and the ability to deliver Web-driven automation within and across organizations on a global scale. The MissionKit is a highly affordable solution that offers developers, software architects, and IT users all of the tools they need to build flexible and powerful technology solutions and efficiencies that advance component-based service-oriented infrastructure – without breaking the budget.

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Exploring Large XML/XBRL Documents with XMLSpy


Last week, while giving a demo of the new XBRL capabilities in the Altova MissionKit, we stumbled across an interesting question: What is the best way for a semi-technical SME (in this case a CPA) to navigate a large XML/XBRL document for data entry? XMLSpy, which is included in the MissionKit tool suite, has a lot of cool features and different views for XML data, including the ever-popular grid view for visualizing the hierarchical structure of an instance document in a graphical manner. The ability to easily expand and collapse containers and drag and drop to change position makes XMLSpy’s grid view a pretty good choice for the task.  XMLSpy grid view Of course let’s not forget that the XMLSpy XML editor also has a Find feature that would enable users to simply press Ctrl F or use the Find in Files window to find any element that they are looking for… but alas, in the case of XBRL, where element names are mindbogglingly verbose, this may be a challenge. Consider, for example, the US-GAAP’s aptly named <us-gaap:IncomeLossFromContinuingOperationsBeforeIncomeTaxesMinorityInterestAnd IncomeLossFromEquityMethodInvestments>. Not so much fun to type into a Find dialog… Our solution, therefore, and the winner for the easiest and most comprehensive way for even a non-technical user to find XML elements in a large document, utilizes a combination of longstanding XMLSpy features (the XPath Analyzer window) and a new feature in XMLSpy v2009, XPath auto-completion. Simply begin typing the element name in the XPath Analyzer window, and XMLSpy will show you all of the possibilities. Next, choose the one you are looking for, and XMLSpy will navigate directly to that node in the XML document.   xpath auto-completion in XMLSpy   Now that was easy! And better yet, you get to tell your friends that you know XPath. 😉 Of course, for developers, intelligent XPath auto-completion provides a lot more than the ability to find a node quickly. As you type, it provides you with valid XPath functions, as well as element and attribute names from the associated schema and XML instance(s). XMLSpy accounts for namespaces when listing options and even provides deep path suggestions when the required node is not in close proximity to the current context. XMLSpy is available standalone or as part of the award-winning MissionKit tool suite.

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Teach DiffDog a New Trick


Teach DiffDog a New Trick You can easily train DiffDog, Altova’s diff/merge tool for files, directories, and databases, to correctly interpret new file types. For instance, more and more file standards are taking advantage of the Zip compression format to deliver entire sets of files in a single convenient package. Let’s say you want to use DiffDog to examine and compare files created by Google Earth that are saved in .kmz archives. When you initially open a folder containing .kmz documents, then attempt to compare two files in a DiffDog document window, DiffDog reports the .kmz files contain binary content: Diff merge tool DiffDog message All you have to do is add the .kmz file extension in the File Types tab of the DiffDog Options dialog: DiffDog tools and options And click the Zip conformant radio button to assign the correct behavior: Compare zip archives Now that DiffDog understands the .kmz file extension is a Zip archive, it expands the Directory compare window to list all the component files. Compare directories You can see differences inside the archives. When you double-click any file pair, DiffDog automatically fetches them from the Zip archives and presents them for interactive editing in a new File Compare window. However, some of the file types enclosed in the Zip archive are also unknown. We learned from reading the XML Aficionado blog entry on Google Earth and XMLSpy that .kml files are an open XML-based standard for geo-spatial information. We can add .kml to DiffDog files types and specify XML-conformant syntax coloring: XML syntax coloring Now DiffDog displays the files with syntax coloring and we can apply all the DiffDog XML-aware differencing functionality. DiffDog  file compare If you dig deeper into the .kmz archive, you’ll discover .dae files are also XML-based. After you add .dae to the DiffDog files list and set it as XML-compliant, give yourself a treat! Compare .dae   DiffDog is available as a standalone tool or as part of the Altova MissionKit tool suite. The recently released DiffDog Version 2009 added powerful database content diff/merge capabilities – take a free trial for a walk around the block.

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Altova MissionKit Wins Prestigious Jolt Award


We are very excited to announce that the Altova MissionKit won the Jolt Product Excellence Award for Best Development Environment last night! Lauded as the "Oscars of the Software Development Industry," the Jolt Product Excellence and Productivity Awards are presented each year to products that have "jolted" the industry with their significance and made the task of creating software faster, easier, and more efficient. According to their Web site, the Jolt Awards, "…recognize the most innovative, trend-making, ahead-of-the-curve products. Jolt-award winners are the software products, books and technologies that developers should be using today." We are honored – and very proud – to be recognized with this designation for the MissionKit, Altova’s suite software development tools for XML, databases, and UML. The unmatched functionality and tight integration between the tools in the MissionKit have been designed from day one to make developers’ lives easier, and we couldn’t be happier to have this recognized first and foremost by our customers and now by this panel of distinguished Jolt Award judges! The complete list of Jolt award winners has been posted, and more info and photos will follow soon as they’re available. A big thank you to the Jolt judges, and congratulations to all the other Jolt Award winners!

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What's New…To Me?


With each release, we update the Altova What’s New page with many details and screenshots describing all the functionality added to each product in the Altova MissionKit. If you’ve ever visited the page, you know it’s quite long — and that’s why we only include information on the latest release. This is very helpful for the folks who are one version behind, but what if it’s been a while since you upgraded? You can check out the New Features Index pages, which allow you to select the current version of your product(s) to see everything that’s been added since:

SMPOf course, if you have an active Support and Maintenance Package, upgrades to the latest version are free; but even if your SMP has expired, special upgrade pricing is available. You can learn more by contacting the Altova Sales Team or entering your license key code into the Upgrade Wizard to see all your options.

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What's New in MapForce 2009?


It feels like we’ve been writing about XBRL and HL7 for months…  Let’s move away from that topic for the moment and talk about additional essential new functionality added to MapForce in the v2009 release. Granted, some of these features have been added as a necessity for mapping to/from multi-dimensional XBRL data, but they also transcend well beyond interactive financial data reporting to the other aspects of mapping XML, database, flat file, EDI, Excel 2007, and Web services data in MapForce.

Custom Functions for Data Mapping

MapForce functions add a custom data processing layer to your mappings, letting you reformat output structure and even manipulate content on-the-fly. With v2009 we have added a grouping, distinct-values, and a predicated position function to the already well-shelved MapForce function library. Grouping functions can be selected for code generation in XSLT 2.0, Java, C#, and C++ and let you effectively reorganize source data into based on common values:

  • group-by – reorganizes data in the output document based on a specified common value, or grouping key
  • group-adjacent – applies grouping to an alternating sequence of items, assigning items that have a common value to the same group
  • group-starts-with – begins a new group based on a specified pattern and puts all subsequent items into the same group until another item matching that pattern is found
  • group-ends-with – ends a new group based on a specified pattern and puts all subsequent items into the same group until another item matching that pattern is found

The distinct-values function is a data filtering operation that, simply put, automatically ignores duplicate input values when writing mapping output results. MapForce distinct-values function MapForce also now includes a predicated position function that lets you filter out data based on its context position in the input document. For example, the mapping below will return data for only the first two people listed in the source document. MapForce position function  

Extended Database Support

For users creating database mappings, MapForce 2009 provides new native support for additional databases: Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Oracle 11g, and PostgreSQL 8. It also now supports mapping XML fields in SQL Server. The complete list of natively supported databases is:

  • Microsoft® SQL Server® 2000, 2005, 2008
  • IBM DB2® 8, 9
  • IBM DB2 for iSeries® v5.4
  • IBM DB2 for zSeries® 8, 9
  • Oracle® 9i, 10g, 11g
  • Sybase® 12
  • MySQL® 4, 5
  • PostgreSQL 8
  • Microsoft Access™ 2003, 2007

Data Mapping Documentation

The ability to generate data mapping documentation makes it much easier to collaborate on large data integration projects, which often include a variety of designers, developers, subject matter experts, and stakeholders. Generate mapping documentation  

Find Dialog for Identifying Nodes

And now for a personal favorite: a new find feature. Yes, this may sound very simple and mundane – unless you have had the pleasure of mapping large and complex multi-layered data components like XBRL and EDI (there we go again!). Consider, for example, digging through an HL7 ADT A05 transaction to find the second CWE identifier field under the fifteenth PR1 segment. Find dialog Ahhh… much easier!! Take a look at the full list of new features in MapForce v2009 – and, as always, keep in mind that Altova adds new functionality to all of the MissionKit tools based on user requests… so keep ‘em coming!

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HL7 Data Integration


By now, you may be aware of the global push that is being made for data transparency – both in the realm of financial reporting* with a recent XBRL mandate in the U.S., and electronic health records – and that these efforts are focused on the creation and maintenance of XML standards. Of course most of you are among the XML savvy and can feel free to please join me in a resounding “duh” to the rest of the world that is only now beginning to realize the value of XML data in reducing errors, lowering costs, and generally increasing the overall efficiency of data management. But for now, let’s focus a bit on healthcare data and standards. Both HL7 and the HIPAA mandated X12N formats healthcare data exchange have traditionally been EDI-based, but the newest version of HL7 (version 3.x), released in 2005 is XML-based and constrained by a formal framework (HDF) that allows for an evolving data model within a carefully defined development methodology. Yes people, standards – bring it on!! Well, of course there is a need to map this data from the HL7 EDI to HL7 XML, to and from backend systems, to Web services and beyond. So what now? Do you need to become an expert in all of these formats? Weren’t standards supposed to make things EASIER? Please ladies and gentleman, return to your seats! Let me draw your attention once again to MapForce, the coolest data integration tool on the market, with support for mapping and converting data to and from XML, databases, flat files, EDI (including HL7, X12, and EDIFACT), Excel 2007, and Web services. HL7 mapping in MapForce The shot above shows a simple graphical mapping updating an HL7 v2.6 message to v3.x. Altova MapForce is an any-to-any visual data mapping tool that supports mapping HL7 data, in its legacy EDI or newer XML-based format, to and from XML, databases, flat files, other EDI formats, and Web services. Mappings are implemented by simply importing the necessary data structures (MapForce ships with configuration files for the latest EDI standards and offers the full set of past and present HL7 standards as a free download) and dragging lines to connect nodes. A built-in function library lets you add advanced data filters and functions to further manipulate the output data. MapForce can also facilitate the automation of your HL7 transaction workflow through code generation in Java, C#, or C++ and an accessible command line interface. Additional support for mapping HL7 data to and from Web services gives healthcare organizations the ability to meet new technology challenges and changing enterprise infrastructures as they unfold within internal and external provider domains. Read more on our new HL7 tools page in the Altova Solutions Center.   *The Altova MissionKit has been infused with XBRL support to meet financial reporting mandates.

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