Web services you can bank on

Runner-up Northern Trust built a service-oriented architecture that promises big efficiency gains

Runner-up Northern Trust built a service-oriented architecture that promises big efficiency gains.

With $2.3 trillion in assets under its management in 97 financial markets, multi-bank holding company Northern Trust treats business processes such as auditing, logging and security with the utmost seriousness.

Take Northern Trust's approach to Web services. While Audra Lind, manager of the company's architecture division, loves the idea of a service-orientated architecture (SOA), she doesn't want application developers creating Web services willy-nilly. Instead, she wants all application teams to follow the same set of best practices.

Until recently, what little work had been done on Web services related to a few "one-off" Java-based applications, says Lind, who also is a vice president within Northern Trust's Worldwide Operations and Technology business unit in Chicago. "These weren't something you could support at an enterprise level, only within one line of business. There wasn't a repository to catalog services. There wasn't a common way to do authentication and security. They were done in a very secure way, but they just weren't enterprise solutions," she says.

To get beyond this limited scope, Northern Trust would have to adopt an enterprise management framework, Lind realized. A framework would allow a Web-services-based trading application to use the same sign-on and authentication procedures as a Web-services-based reporting application, for instance. The framework also would deliver performance information to ensure Web-services-based applications meet specified service levels, and provide data for auditing and logging purposes.

"Our framework opens the door for application teams to develop Web services based on business logic without having to worry about or support the underlying security, auditing or logging functions," Lind says. "With the old way, they would have been completely on their own. . . . Now they can use what we have in place. We have all sorts of documents - best practices, road maps - for building a Web service."

The result is a robust SOA that promises to drastically reduce the complexity, development time and cost of building applications while giving Northern Trust a testing ground for how to use Web services with external clients. Northern Trust earns runner-up status in our 2004 User Excellence Award competition for its studied, business-changing approach to Web services.

A new world

The framework, created using Management Foundation from AmberPoint, allows for the first time interoperability between development environments that Northern Trust uses for online applications. "This nestles right into the Java space and right into the [Microsoft] .Net space, with very little custom coding required," Lind says.

Northern Trust has used BEA Systems' WebLogic application server, which supports the Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition platform, for about five years. In late 2003, it upgraded to the latest version - 8.1, aimed at SOA development - coincident with bringing .Net in house. Lind says .Net appealed to the architecture division for a number of reasons: the component-oriented Visual C# programming language, the rapid development environment, ease of integration with other Microsoft applications, and availability of .Net applications from independent software vendors.

Today, Northern Trust has about 100 Java-based applications across its various lines of business and five to 10 core .Net-based business applications, with hundreds of smaller applications across the company. The AmberPoint management framework opens a new world for the developers for two reasons: Its agents run natively in the WebLogic and .Net servers, and it provides service brokering between applications, Lind says. The framework supports the World Wide Web Consortium's Simple Object Access Protocol for communications.

"The framework opens the ability to talk between those two environments, which is great because a lot of our applications can share code and call each other to get certain functions. Now people who want to build the applications in .Net to take advantage of the rapid development environment can do that while leveraging Java code for some of the business logic," she explains.

Under the framework

The first application produced using the Web services management framework features a .Net front end and Java in the back end, Lind says.

Via the management framework, developers enabled the application to collate data from multiple disparate sources and then present the information for use by Northern Trust traders, Lind says. Developers relied on the framework for the security and management functions, needing only to focus on the business logic and thus reduce the project's complexity, duration and cost, she notes. Traders will begin using this investment application as part of their daily jobs starting in 2005.

With one successful Web service on its way to deployment, Lind says she now expects developers to make those one-off, Java-based Web services-based applications enterprise-class by moving them onto the prescribed management platform. She also anticipates that developers will look to the management framework as they consider how to update existing applications with new features and functions.

"We hope to always have the Web services hook in there to say, 'We have this framework in place. We have this new way of sharing data between the platforms. This could simplify your application in this 15 ways, let's do it,' " Lind says. "This will be an iterative, continuously moving effort."

Of course, she adds, any brand-new application that needs to share data, talk across platforms or expose functions as Web services definitely would go under the framework.

"Everyone is very excited about this potential," Lind says, although she wouldn't venture a guess as to how many Web services Northern Trust eventually will have in its framework. "Our [AmberPoint] contract says that next year I can have up to 50, and then I'll have to pay for more, but I have absolutely no idea. . . . I would expect that the first few applications will get in there, and with their success stories, a lot of other application managers will jump on the bandwagon."

On the safe side

Still, until the company's Worldwide Operations and Technology group is 100% comfortable with security and performance, Web services will be for internal use only. For now, any Web applications used by clients must remain in the Java realm. "Sharing data with other organizations would be an excellent use of Web services, but we need more due diligence before we go down that path," Lind says.

Tim Theriault, president of Worldwide Operations and Technology, elaborates: "We haven't just said 'Web services for everything and everybody.' For technology, that sounds elegant. But for business reasons, that doesn't make sense."

Getting comfortable with security and management issues internally first makes far more sense, Lind adds. Her team initially focused its framework efforts on supporting Web services for transport over HTTP.

Next year, she says, the team will work on three framework initiatives: supporting Web services over the company's MQ Series messaging infrastructure, providing a catalog for Web services (most likely using the UDDI specifications), and nailing down additional security functionality.

"But what we have done so far, focusing on fixing the biggest problems of security, auditing and logging, has been a good first step for us, to begin solving these issues for Northern Trust," Lind says. "And just as the management framework is opening doors for us internally, I'm hoping that it will open doors externally over time, too."

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