Flexible, collaborative SOA

As IT managers continue to wrangle with creating and managing service-oriented architectures — in which application components are used and reused to meet business demands — BEA Systems is focusing on providing an underlying open platform for cohesive, companywide SOA.

The infrastructure software vendor took a big step in that direction last month when it used its BEAWorld user conference in San Francisco to launch SOA 360, a new platform and approach to deploying service-oriented applications. SOA 360 uses a lightweight, Web services standard that BEA devised, called microService Architecture (mSA), to tie together pieces of formerly disparate software product families, as well as to provide a platform for integrating third-party applications.

The idea behind SOA is that applications are broken down into modular services that can be mixed and matched according to business demands. For example, if an application needs to communicate with a different database, a service component that points to the specific database is changed while the rest of the application remains untouched. In the past, applications were monolithic and every change required hefty recoding.

With SOA 360, customers can more easily integrate software from BEA’s three product lines: WebLogic, which is used for creating Java-based applications and Web services; AquaLogic, which manages and configures SOA applications; and Tuxedo, which is used to create transaction-based applications.

“What you’re seeing is the ability to put [all these applications] in the right location inside the SOA lifecycle and connecting all of them through a unified repository so they can share information between them in a seamless manner,” said Rob Levy, BEA’s CTO.

With mSA, SOA 360 also gives customers the ability to pull only the services — or parts — of the application needed for a particular business process, rather than requiring the entire application environment every time.

“When you start thinking about deploying an SOA environment, you want to have the flexibility of putting in only the pieces you need to build it,” said Levy. “Today, people provision a complete environment regardless of how much of it is actually going to be used for the application that is going to be deployed on top of it.”

So when capturing data, for example, there is no need to deploy a large Java environment on a server. “All you really need is a Java Virtual Machine container so you can run the applet and the data services integration component,” said Levy. “That’s it. Why do you want a full-blown Java environment when all you’re really doing is running one Java applet and one interaction with a database?”

SOA 360 is made up of a number of software pieces, among them WorkSpace 360, which will be available in 2007 and is designed to be the collaborative portal through which developers, IT and business users can work together in creating, deploying and managing an SOA.

BEA plans to create components for all its middleware products during the next 12 to 18 months.

Analysts say BEA’s new SOA 360 approach reflects an industry trend in which infrastructure software vendors are rolling out tools designed to better manage SOA components. WebMethods, for example, last month announced plans to buy Infravio, a company that builds software to manage the pieces within an SOA.

But analysts also question exactly how BEA will accomplish what it is describing.

“BEA has come out with an ambitious architecture and an ambitious plan, [but]…many of the actual details are sparse,” said Shawn Willett, principal analyst, application infrastructure, at Current Analysis.

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