Another Option for Cloud Integration: Semantic Technology

Loraine Lawson
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Yesterday, I wrote about the complexities of cloud integration. For the most part, the solutions are similar to what you might use on-premise, as one article pointed out.

But one emerging option is different: semantic web technologies that leverage metadata and metamodels for integration.

Recently, InfoWorld invited Sanjiva Nath, CEO of zAgile, to explain this approach. The company’s Wikidsmart platform supports “data integration and can also tie application data with process context and team activities,” the article explains. At this point, Wikidsmart is primarily used to integrate CRM data sources and to manage large software development projects across global teams, the introduction explains.

Even though I’ve written about semantic technology and how it can be applied to integration, I found this piece technical and difficult to follow. So if you’re a business leader more than a techie, proceed with patience. Here are a few things that are helpful to know:

1. You’ve heard of metadata (data about data), but this technology actually leverages a metamodel. What the heck does that mean? “ A metamodel provides a structured, consistent, and shareable mechanism for metadata definition and exchange,” the article explains. They can be combined, integrated or used separately. Even better, metamodels are already in software systems, but they vary in the type of information specifications they include, “as well as the degree of abstraction in defining metadata related to an element.” One might describe a relational database while another represents users, groups and roles. A system may also have several metamodels that represent it.

That’s not a bad thing, though. In fact, you can combine them to “create a facet that not only represents a relational system but also expresses access privileges associated with its resources, specific to users, groups, and roles.”

2. Nath describes metamodels as an alternative to traditional enterprise application integration. So it’s not about “just” the transfer of data, but the integration and transfer of rules, business processes and other contexts that data might be in.

3. You’ve heard of XML? The problem is that XML doesn’t use a schema or standardized approach to “express information about resources or link them with other resources.”

So, to deal with that shortcoming, we have frameworks such as RDF (resource description framework) and OWL. RDF is a standard model used for data interchange on the Web; it simplifies data mergers, even in cases where the underlying schemas differ. It’s a key part of Linked Data, since it also uses the Web’s URIs to name relationships between two things, as well as the two ends of the link. In other words, it makes data available for hyperlinking.

4. Another framework alternative for XML is OWL — Web Ontology Language. OWL represents taxonomies and the interrelationship between things like hierarchies and aggregations.

OWL can do a lot more, though, including supporting definitions for data, enabling visualization for mobile devices, reporting metadata and supporting business vocabularies. How? It does all that using metamodels.

And at its heart, that’s what Wikidsmart uses: OWL-based ontologies and metamodels.

You can read the full piece for the great techie details on that, but here’s the key takeaway from a strategic integration standpoint: Metamodels are reusable. And that’s huge.

So, they can be “applied in various contexts, providing structured, consistent, and shareable mechanism for data integration across a wide range of applications and platforms,” the piece explains.

In that way, it reminds me of what people used to say about SOA services and integration. It’ll be interesting to watch this approach mature.

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