STD Web Servers And B2B SOAP Hubs

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Research
Publication Date: 7 August 2003 ID Number: TG-20-5634

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Standard Web Servers Make Simple B2B SOAP Hubs
Whit Andrews, Benoit J. Lheureux
Using standard Web servers to deliver SOAP messages is one intermediate way for
enterprises to improve business-to-business interactions.

Publication Date: 7 August 2003/ID Number: TG-20-5634 Page 2 of
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© 2003 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved.


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Enterprises that wish to implement Web-services-based connections to trading partners, and are
willing to "finesse" issues of manageability and quality of service, should consider using a Web
server as a connection hub and Secure Sockets Layer for connection security. For simple
projects, this strategy will involve less initial investment and faster time-to-market than specialized
business-to-business software or services through year-end 2004. The long-term costs, however,
will quickly approach or exceed more-rigorous solutions, based on specialized B2B software or
services, as the number and complexity of Web services increase in such projects.
ANALYSIS
In an increasingly popular application integration scenario, simple Web servers — not some other
specialized business-to-business (B2B) software — are being used for point-to-point integration
between trading partners using SOAP. In other words, by using simple Web-server-based
authorization and authentication methods — which are properly augmented by Secure Sockets
Layer (SSL) — enterprises are enlisting SOAP-based interactions to gain information similar to
what they might make available on a Web site or a general-purpose trading hub.
The advantage of using Web services is that partner enterprises can gain access to the
information in a programmatically "liquid" form. The XML-based SOAP communication may be
unpacked and the data inserted directly into partners' applications. Typically, making B2B
information (such as product pricing, availability or order status) available on a Web server or
portal requires a human user to extract it — typically via a browser or HTML "Web scraping"
technology, which is brittle and is affected by Web page user-interface changes.
Such interconnection is inefficient but acceptable when requests for information are infrequent or
results are nuanced. However, when such requests would be useful in a steady stream or large
volume, a Web-services-based interface is more efficient for all parties concerned. Since Web
servers often are already integrated with back-end systems (for example, enterprise resource
planning), enterprises can leverage the investments they have in current Web servers to
incrementally add Web services support to those Web servers — to achieve a pragmatic form of
B2B application integration. Enterprises must not, however, undertake such integration lightly.
Methods of implementing B2B Web services vary. To manage Web services, enterprises may
use the managed service provider of a Web services network or some other specialized products,
such as a transaction delivery network or integration brokers (see "Extra Effort Needed to
Manage Many Facets of Web Services"). Enterprises also may use the scenario described above
— that is, enabling a Web server to act as a Web services provider platform in the form of a
trading hub, serving SOAP objects alongside HTML pages. Enterprises should consider a Web-
server-based SOAP hub if they want an intermediate solution between a fully managed B2B
network and bootstrapped portals or older-method B2B communications.
Advantages of a Web-Server-Based SOAP Hub Include:
• A low initial cost
• A shallow learning curve, which also makes it easy for trading partners to adopt
• Potential reuse of the current Web server infrastructure, tools and operations staff
Disadvantages of a Web-Server-Based SOAP Hub Include:

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© 2003 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved.


• Implementing SOAP may expose insufficiently protected Web servers and internal IT
infrastructures to additional forms of security attacks, via HTTP tunneling and other Web
server and Web services vulnerabilities
• Lack of isolation — new SOAP traffic can affect the performance of current HTML traffic
• Without SSL accelerators, heavy SSL use may damage Web server performance
• Lack of other management functions, such as a trading partner registry, automated
provisioning, testing and monitoring, which are normally found in B2B software
In general, Web-server-based SOAP hubs are best when enterprises deal with important, trusted
customers or suppliers who possess the sophistication and interest to establish SOAP
connections to exchange small sets of data and support simple business processes. On the other
hand, for less-skilled enterprises in larger trading communities, the approach is too complex and
offers a quality-of-service level that is unsuitable for large-scale deployment (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. When a Web-Server-Based SOAP Hub Is Appropriate for B2B Application
Integration
Typical Integration Scenarios for Supply
Chain Integration From the Channel Master’s
Point of View
Most Strategic
and Private
Mixed
Model/Hybrid
Least
Strategic/Public
Strategic Importance
High Medium Low
Relationship Value and Differentiation
High Medium Low
Level of Trust and Risk
High Medium Low
Level of Trading Partner IT Sophistication
High Medium Low
Percentage of Trading Partners on Board
Few Varies
Many
Willingness to Outsource
Low Varies High
Focus of Integration
Simple data
sharing; simple
process integration
Web Server, SOAP-Based Hub as an Alternative
to HTML Scraping
At times a good
fit, but not for
high quality-of-
service
scenarios
Not a good
fit; too
complex for
many users
Web Server, SOAP-Based Hub for Remote, Fat-
Client Apps.
Web Server, SOAP-Based Hub for General-
Purpose B2B Integration
At times a good
fit, but not for high
quality-of-service,
heterogeneous
B2B scenarios
Simple data
sharing; simple
process integration
Simple data
sharing; simple
process integration
At times a good
fit, but not for
high quality-of-
service
scenarios
At times a good
fit, but not for
high quality-of-
service
scenarios
At times a good
fit, but not for
high quality-of-
service
scenarios
Not a good
fit; too
complex for
many users
Not a good
fit; too
complex for
many users
At times a good
fit, but not for high
quality-of-service,
heterogeneous
B2B scenarios

Source: Gartner Research (August 2003)

Publication Date: 7 August 2003/ID Number: TG-20-5634 Page 4 of
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© 2003 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved.


Using a Web-server-based SOAP hub is often appropriate when connecting to a few, trusted
trading partners — particularly via secure, private connections. On the other hand, the lack of
management tools as well as potentially insufficient security infrastructures make this approach
inappropriate when interconnecting a large number of trading partners. This is true whether
you're using the Web-server-based SOAP hub as an alternative to HTML screen-scraping, to
remote fat (or "rich") client applications, or to a general-purpose SOAP-based trading hub. This
approach is not necessarily a "good fit" with any of the scenarios in Figure 1 because of the
potential impact of the IT project's complexity. Best practices are:
• If many WSDLs are required, then solutions with Web-services-specific management
tools should be used.
• If heterogeneity is required (for example, support is needed for multiple protocols such
as Applicability Statement 2 (AS2) or RosettaNet), then you should use transaction
delivery network software or some other solution that is specifically designed to support
and manage multiple protocols.
• If HTTP is insufficient and higher quality-of-service levels are required, then some other
solution with built-in, reliable communications middleware should be considered, such
as Web services networks, Web services brokers, Web-services-enabled integration
suites, message-oriented middleware, enterprise service buses or transaction delivery
network software.
Tactical Guidelines
Enterprises should consider a Web-server-based SOAP hub when:
• Few WSDLs (less than 10) will be deployed.
• Communication via a standard Internet protocol (that is, HTTP) is considered reliable
enough from a quality-of-service point of view (that is, if errors occur, the SOAP
requests will be retried at the application level).
• Homogeneity is acceptable — that is, all trading partners will use the same protocol
(SOAP) and WSDL(s), as well as SSL.
• The IT project is opportunistic (tactical, short-term, limited deployment).
• SSL channel security is sufficient for confidentiality. No granular security within the
SOAP message is necessary.
• Standard Web server management tools sufficiently address your operational
requirements.
• Few partners (less than 50) are involved.
• A programmatic application programming interface is preferred over "HTML screen-
scraping" for B2B application integration, or a "rich client" is preferred over a browser to
support Web-based, distributed client/servers.
• Enterprises want to experiment with a low-cost, quick-deployment solution as an
intermediate step toward implementing a portal, a transaction-delivery-network-based
hub or another more-rigorous B2B integration solution.
Enterprises should consider other approaches when:
• More than a few WSDLs (greater than 10) will be deployed.

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© 2003 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved.


• Communication via standard Internet protocols (for example, HTTP) is not considered
reliable enough. What's required is AS2, Electronic Business XML Message Service
(ebXML-MS), Web Services Reliable Messaging or some other means of ensuring
reliable message delivery with an acknowledgement receipt.
• Heterogeneity is necessary — that is, some trading partners will require different
protocols (for example, AS2, ebXML-MS or different WSDLs), in which case you should
use specialized B2B software that offers protocol heterogeneity and transformation.
• The IT project is systematic — that is, strategic, long-term and designed for substantial
growth.
• The project requires more-rigorous security — for example, granular encryption and
digital signatures, identity-based authorizations or transaction controls, digital certificate
services or automated security policy agreements.
• A large number of partners (more than 250) are to be connected.
• The project requires more-sophisticated trading partner management tools.
Key Issues
Which best practices should enterprises follow when rolling out service-oriented architectures and
the related service-oriented development architectures through 2008?
Acronym Key
AS2
Applicability Statement 2
B2B
business-to-business
ebXML-MS
Electronic Business XML Message Service
SSL
Secure Sockets Layer


This research is part of a set of related research pieces. See "B2B Patterns Simplify IT Choices"
for an overview.
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