Make your IT environment SOA effective, says BEA

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When it comes to IT services, BEA Inc. says it’s a big supporter of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.

The very practices that help transform the physical habitat, could also work wonders for the enterprise IT environment, the San JOse, Calif-based company says.

And the way to ensure IT adheres to three Rs is to be found in three magic words: service oriented architecture (SOA).

SOA defines a software model in which loosely coupled software services respond to the requirements of business processes and software users. Resources are made available as independent services that can be accessed without knowledge of their underlying platform implementation.

At an SOA governance seminar event in Toronto yesterday, a BEA executive outlined the positive impact SOA technology can have on the business.

Implemented properly, SOA can provide substantial savings for businesses, said Jay Holmstrom, director of technology at the Great Lakes office of software firm BEA Systems Inc.

He said those savings come from eliminating the need to recreate existing services when they are required by a business unit.

Holstrom said in most cases companies have hundreds of services residing on their system and keeping track of all these is often difficult and time consuming.

It is not uncommon for IT departments to develop a service for one business unit, without checking if the same service or something similar already exists, the BEA executive said.

This issue can be resolved by creating a service inventory registry, said Jacob Shapiro, systems engineer, BEA.

Shapiro said BEA is able to create a registry that manages the service inventory and reports back to administrators which ones are being used and which neglected.

Rather than calling lengthy meetings with various departments, administrators are able to almost instantly determine what services are available, and which ones can be reused, Shapiro said. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time you get a request.”

Recent industry surveys indicate enterprises are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of SOA, and its huge “cost savings” potential.

Seventy-seven per cent of large enterprises actively implemented SOA by the end of 2006, according to a survey by analyst firm Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

And tech consulting firm IDC of Framingham, Mass. predicts the overall Web services market is expected to reach US$21 billion by 2007.

Holmstrom said to experience the benefits of SOA companies need to create an appropriate “governance framework” — a roadmap for processes and implementation.

“Framework trumps technology,” the BEA executive said.

At least one analyst agrees. “SOA is architecture, and SOA is hard. It’s not a one-off software project,” said Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst with ZapThink LLC, an IT consulting firm based in Baltimore.

However, despite the implementation challenges, it seems the huge payback can make the effort worthwhile.

For instance, Holmstrom told of a BEA client – a North American financial company he did not name – that “saved at least US$20,000 for every service it was able to reuse.”

The savings came from reduced account development efforts and man hours.

A pre-requisite for SOA success, is being able to identify services that can be reused, noted Robert Ashall, partner at Softworx Technology Group, a Toronto-based SOA consulting firm that works with BEA.

Ashall said his company helps businesses with this identification process by deploying SOA management and validation software from AmberPoint Inc. of Oakland California.

While BEA products and services handle the SOA design, AmberPoint provides the “runtime policy controls,” Ashall said.

AmberPoint’s key strengths are in its ability to manage service use through policy-based controls, and to report back on service activities and co-relations, said Mark Segal of Softworx’s R&D department.

He said the product informs administrators what services are running, who’s using the service and how.

It reports on which services are frequently used and which aren’t, and provides a graph illustrating how services throughout the enterprise affect one another.

“This feature is really powerful when it comes to deciding which services to remove and which ones to augment,” said Segal.

A participant at the Toronto BEA event from a leading Canadian telecom company, however, was more skeptical and said despite SOA’s touted benefits the method is often stymied by people on the ground. “Some people are set in their ways. How do you get users to adopt this system?” said the participant (name withheld at request).

Holmstrom said one way to get buy in from all levels of the organization is by appointing a program director. This person would oversee the initiative, making sure it is in line with the company’s goals and the various needs of its department. “Governance needs a governor.”

Procedures also have to be established to determine “who does what and when,” said Holstrom.

“This prevents the designers and programmers from creating thousands of services that no ever uses.”

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