All About ESBs: What They Are and When You Need to Use Them

Ever wandered into a meeting that was a little too early and sat there, confused by all the jargon? ESB is one of those terms that are thrown around a lot, without much consideration of whether the other person actually has the full scope of its meaning.

And even after knowing what an ESB is, you might have trouble figuring whether you need to use them. Should you select the ESB path or go for the alternatives, like an API? Decisions in technology can be pretty difficult to make and you often wonder if you made the wrong choice. But after giving this a read, you’ll be a little more informed and confident about the stance you want to take.

What Is An ESB?

 ESB stands for enterprise service bus. It carries out communication among software applications that require mutual interaction in a service-oriented architecture (SOA). To put it more bluntly, an ESB is simply an architecture, a set of rules for integrating several applications together across a bus-like infrastructure.  ESB products all allow users to build this kind of architecture but differ in how they do so and the capabilities that they provide.

With ESBs you integrate various applications by providing a sort of ‘communication bus’ between them then allow each application to talk to the bus. As a result, the applications do not talk to each other directly, but to the bus; and the systems are decoupled from each other. They are not dependent on each other, nor do they know of one another.

ESBs serve as a solution to the issues that arise from point-to-point integration. These are mainly that this kind of integration tends to become fragile and difficult to maintain over time.

When Should I Choose ESBs?

You might wonder why you require ESBs to allow programs to communicate. After all, APIs can do the job faster and with an unbelievable amount of agility. However, ESBs provide great value in situations where there are at least a couple of integration points or with a minimum of 3 applications to integrate. They are also useful in scenarios where loose coupling, scalability, and sturdiness are prioritized.

Here are a few things you need to ask yourself to determine whether an ESB is needed:

  1. Will you have to integrate 3 or more applications or services? If you require communication between less than 3 applications, point-to-point integration is a better option.
  2. Do you have to use more than one kind of communication protocol? If you are using something like HTTP/Web Services you won’t get any of the benefits that the cross-protocol messaging and transformation Mule has to offer
  3. Will you need to distribute services for consumption by any other applications? When it comes to Mule, this is a logical option because of the robustness and scalability it offers.
  4. Does the project in question contain over 10 applications to integrate? Instead of overly large and messy plans, stick to a couple of smaller ones. This will allow you to deal with problems quickly and before they spiral out of control.
  5. Do you actually need the scalability that an ESB has to offer? It can be tempting to overestimate the scalability needed by an application. It is also important to remember that Mule can scale up as well as down, and that tinkering with the architecture isn’t always easy.
  6. Are you going to plug in additional applications later on? It is always a safer option to keep things simple now and then reshape later on if you must.
  7. Is there a clear plan about what you wish to achieve with your architecture? Loads of details must be understood first around the integration points, protocols, IT infrastructure, security, and lots more. A small and well-planned project will reduce the number of issues you run into and prevent unpleasant surprises down the road. You need to have a clear view of your architecture before you can really say whether you need an ESB.

Once you’ve thought all these factors through and mulled over the possibilities, you will be able to clearly decide whether ESB is the right for your needs.


AT the end of the day, ESB is just one single architecture. Like many other things in tech, it is something people use to achieve their integration needs. Whether these are simple necessities or range into strategic and complex architectures for integration. At the end of the day, only you can figure out how an ESB will benefit your business or project. And to do that, you have to know the principles behind ESBs and how the communication bus will solve your problems.

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