Microsoft's Integration Environment-.NET

As with many of the tools for data integration in industrial settings, Microsoft .NET relies on technologies that are platform-and programming language-agnostic to achieve its objectives. Based on Web services, XML, and proprietary software tools, it connects information, systems, devices, and people, enabling them to share and reuse data and software functions. Its goal is to facilitate collaboration and decision-making, as well as to synchronize data, optimize efficiency, and enhance processes and operations.

An Integration Environment

.NET's comprehensive software development and execution environment enables different programming languages and libraries to work together, allowing you to rapidly create Windows-based applications that are easy to manage, deploy, and integrate with other networked systems. The platform-independent, network-transparent environment consists of programming tools that support Web services.

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.NET's goal is to provide you with a seamless, interoperable, and Web-enabled interface for applications. It eliminates the boundaries between applications and the Internet and creates a virtual repository for all your information sources, which you can access from any location or with any device. Using .NET's tools, you can modify, manipulate, combine, and exchange software objects, functions, and data. This ability to create reusable data and function modules increases the speed with which system integrators, developers, and users can enable data sharing, create new processes, and enhance operations. .NET also allows you to input data into your applications via email, fax, and telephone.

With .NET, you can "network" a wide variety of software applications (e.g., SCADA, ERP, and MESs), databases, and devices (e.g., servers, desktop systems, and PDAs), enabling them to work together. This integration results in system-wide updating and synchronizing of information. The use of XML (Extensible Markup Language) facilitates the free-flowing exchange of data and functions, or services, regardless of the data structure or programming language used by individual applications, documents, or records.

The Infrastructure's Components

.NET consists of two primary components, or mechanisms: the Common Language Runtime (CLR) and the Framework Class Libraries.

The CLR environment is the core runtime engine in the .NET framework for executing applications. This component supplies managed code with services for cross-language integration, code access security, object lifetime management, and debugging and profiling support.

The Framework Class Libraries are a collection of interfaces and value types that provide access to system functionality. The libraries contain the basic components on which .NET applications and controls are built.

Protocols and Specifications

In addition to the common TCP/IP, HTTP, and XML Internet protocols, .NET uses the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and the Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI) specification to provide enterprise-wide connectivity.

SOAP facilitates the exchange of structured data and type information over the Internet by providing both an envelope that defines the message structure and a convention for representing remote procedure calls and responses. SOAP is the de facto standard for XML messaging.

The UDDI specification supports publishing and locating information via Web services by defining storage and information retrieval methods for services, service providers, and technical interface definitions.

A .NET Application

In a case study documented by Microsoft, Portugal's Water Institute established a network of 600 meteorological gauges, 300 flow sensors, 70 water-quality sensors, and 27 reservoir gauges to monitor river flows, rainfall, reservoir levels, and water quality in the country's river basins. Measurements are fed to a SQL Server database in real time, using GSM telemetry and fixed phone lines. The database is part of a multichannel platform that can be accessed by PC workstations, PDAs, or WAP telephones via the Internet, using XML-based Web services.

The system allows the Water Institute to better forecast and monitor flood and drought situations and to keep civil authorities aware of conditions. "Everyone accesses and watches the same information. It's one dataset; there are no transformed versions. The civil protection agency with its regional services can see our forecasts and keep watch on any flood situation," says Rui Rodrigues, the institute's director of water resources.

Tom Kevan is a freelance writer/editor specializing in information technology and communications.

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