Big Blue offers SOA products with built-in interoperability

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An IBM customer says Big Blue’s new line of service-oriented architecture (SOA) products announced yesterday will help his company minimize interoperability challenges.

“Companies like ours buy software from different vendors. These packages often do not speak the same language,” said Tracy Legrand, chief architect for the financial planning firm Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Minneapolis. However, he said, “the SOA products recently released by IBM have built-in interoperability.”

Meanwhile, Big Blue said its new SOA products would further expand its footprint in the field. In total, IBM announced 27 new and enhanced products and 11 services.

The release focuses on four key areas: preparing IT systems for SOA deployment, use of business process management (BPM) to reap benefits from SOA, improved governance, and creating industry-specialized SOA services.

SOA is an approach to building applications and organizing various IT resources so these products act to provide the specific services an organization needs.

Legrand, who participated in the IBM-sponsored briefing, said until now, his company had also used certain products from other vendors to augment IBM’s SOA line. However, he did not specify which products.

He said SOA technology helps Ameriprise better manage its business processes such as automated trade, generating monthly reports and cross-indexing mutual funds. Ameriprise uses IBM WebSphere Business Integration software to route messages, along with WebSphere Application Server to integrate the company’s various applications.

With more than US$11 billion in assets, Ameriprise is the fourth largest financial advisory firm in the U.S. Legrand said SOA products helps his company link 11 lines of business such as investment, banking and insurance to over two million clients, and more than 12,000 advisors throughout 3,500 officers in the country.

IBM has invested more than US$300 million in 2006 to develop SOA products, according to Steve Mills, senior vice-president and group executive for IBM Software Group. He said there are some 3,000 IBM SOA customers and 2,500 business partners.

A recent industry survey by Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. indicates that SOA is gaining traction in the enterprise market.

The desire to improve IT systems efficiency in a multi-vendor environment, and reduce costs are among the biggest drivers of adoption.

A recent study by the IBM think tank, Institute for Business Value, revealed that 92 per cent of the company’s customers deployed SOA to reduce costs. Fifty-one per cent of the customers who adopted this technology said they saw a growth in revenue.

According to an analyst, IBM’s announcement yesterday is significant – not so much for number of products released – but more because it implies that Big Blue is committed to “infusing SOA” throughout business processes.

“IBM already has the biggest footprint in the SOA market. This release reinforces the idea that SOA needs to be infused and integrated into every aspect of the business process,” said Randy Heffner, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Optimizing business processes, in fact, appears to be a common focus in all the new product announcements yesterday.

For instance, WebSphere Business Modeler uses key performance indicators to help users monitor and manage workflow, according to Robert LaBlanc, general manager for WebSphere in Armonk, N.Y.

“Business Modeler allows customers to visualize the business process and identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies before they can affect business performance,” said LaBlanc.

He said the product worked with the new WebSphere Business Monitor that allows users to scrutinize transactions and detect events that may affect performance.

Legrand of Ameriprise said his company hoped to benefit from the use of WebSphere Registry and Repository (another new product announced yesterday) which helps customers manage Web services and shared business processes.

The software helped clients find or create services through a four-staged process that includes: discovery, service development, release management and operational efficiency, said Mike Daniels, senior vice-president for IBM Global Technology Services.

Legrand finds the staged process particularly useful. “It means that when I need to deploy an application for one department, the software can help me search through my registry for the appropriate service. The ability to reuse services cuts down deployment time and the risk of building duplicates.”

Daniels said IBM’s new release also expanded the focus of SOA to include service security and service virtualization.

The security offerings include: SOA Application Security Assessment, SOA Security Requirements, SOA Security Architecture and SOA Security Implementations.

The security services help customers plan and manage user identity and access control as well as secure transactions.

The Web Infrastructure Optimization and Virtualization Service allow users to manage a virtualized, distributed application hosting environment.

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