How healthy is your service-oriented-architecture?

LAS VEGAS — IBM Corp. has announced services designed to help IT managers figure out whether their service-oriented architecture is working, a social network for IT workers and academics interested in service-oriented architecture (SOA) plus widgets for non-technical users who want to fine-tune their Web applications.

At its ImpactSOA conference here the company revealed Infrastructure Architecture Healthcheck for SOA, a service designed for companies who plan to install SOA or who already have it and want to add more features. It uses “what-if” scenarios taken from IBM’s Performance and Capacity Evaluations Services (PACES) running on an IBM cloud computing platform and IBM’s SOA PARA-medic.

Because most SOA implementations combine different applications, Infrastructure Architecture Healthcheck for SOA monitors the links between those systems, said Mary Wieck, vice-president for middleware services at IBM’s global technology service.

“When there are performance issues most people tend to blame the network, and it’s not always the network that’s the problem,” she said in an interview with ComputerWorld Canada. “One of the big differences with SOA is you tend to have composite applications and services that may be spread over a large number of servers or other computer resources. How do you get a good view of the capacity of those individual systems as well as the end to end performance?”

Wieck added the service can combine different applications on to the same system so companies can get more bang for their bucks, and can help load balance and virtualize systems. It can also see whether other systems are “stealing cycles away” from a user’s service-oriented architecture.

IBM’s health check services are useful for IT departments trying to figure out what exactly their service-oriented architecture has and how well it’s put together, said Judith Hurwitz, president and chief executive officer of the Needham, Mass.-based consultancy Hurwitz Group.

“With this idea of a health check, they’ve put together some best practices from many of the implementations,” Hurwitz said in an interview at the conference.

“It sounds like it’s been nicely structured in a way that’s sort of pragmatic looking and figuring out what you have, what works and what doesn’t, because unless you know that, you don’t know what to do next. You don’t know if you’re on the right path or not. So it’s a good type of service to offer.”

IBM also showed off Mashup Center, which lets non-technical users make Web applications by dragging and dropping mashup components. It is comprised of InfoSphere Mashup hub, which is the back end, and Lotus Mashups, the front end, said Larry Bowden, IBM’s vice-president for portals and Web Interaction Services.

Mashup Center has a browser-based tool that includes widgets, plus a catalogue for finding and sharing widgets and mashups. It also stores information feeds from corporate systems in RSS, ATOM or XML formats and users can merge, transform, filter, annotate or publish information in new formats.

“We didn’t want customers to have to do tooling here,” Bowden said. The beta version of Mashup Center is scheduled for release April 15, and is based on Project Zero, a program for developing Web 2.0 applications.

One company, which IBM did not name, is already using Mashup Center to combine data from enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management systems to view customer accounts by region, sales history, customer services incidents and projected sales by product line.

“If you really think of what mashups are, it’s the ability to take a set of services and combine them to create an entity, whatever that may be,” Hurwitz said, adding applications that combines Google Maps with real estate services would fall into this category.

“What you really need to think about is, if you mash things up together, you have to make sure that you have a container that they can fit into so it has the proper level of service,” Hurwitz said. “You also have to have the ability to ensure that what you’re putting in there is really solid, that it’s a reusable service and it’s not a rogue piece of code. It really is a way to do a service oriented architecture, which is services that you combine together to create new value.”

IBM is also releasing a developer tool, dubbed WebSphere sMash, which is based on Project Zero and supports scripting languages. “It’s essentially a culmination of the work we’ve been doing in for a little over a year,” said Jason McGee, Distinguished Engineer and Chief Architect for Project Zero.

“You can build, essentially any kind of Web-based application but it’s certainly focused on what you might think of as modern Web 2.0 style applications, like mashups, integration of disparate sources of data, exposing things as (Representational State Transfer-based services), create some feeds and the like,” McGee said. “WebSphere sMash will be the commercial version for deploying smash applications.”

IBM is using Web 2.0 applications in its SOA Social Network, which includes IT professionals, university professors and students. It launched the network with the SOA Jam, a three-day online forum Big Blue hosted at Impact SOA. IBM plans to host virtual meetings through Second Life and open its network free of charge to customers and partners.

“We’re going to try to put a social network together for the SOA, glue customers together so they can discuss best practices for SOA,” said John McLean, IBM’s vice-president for WebSphere Connectivity and Business Development. “People in this space can start sharing experiences.”

He added Web 2.0 applications are becoming more attractive to mainstream business.

“When we first started in the Internet, 1994, there was a large discussion, was there any use here? I think people can see some power with social computing,” McLean said. “Web 2.0 is more than just Facebook. It’s enriching the user experience, having a much more agile programming model. Business will adopt technologies that give them choice and give them capability. I think they’re far more receptive and open to change than they were previously.”

Impact SOA continues until Friday.

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