Pieces of an SOA puzzle

That rumble enterprises may hear in the next little while is the sound of major IT vendors jostling for position as interest in service-oriented architectures (SOAs) picks up.

What’s all the hubbub, you ask? While none of the major vendors can agree on a clear definition of the emerging concept, most can admit that SOAs — which are tied to Web services and essentially break down a large program into reusable pieces that span across the network — are becoming important.

The premise is that now IT resources can be loosely coupled without knowledge of the underlying hardware or software operating systems.

This month SAP AG launched its Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA) Adoption Program, a strategy for pushing adoption of SAP’s NetWeaver middleware integration platform. SAP’s ESA offers a four-step program that includes best-practices workshops and tools.

Ori Inbar, vice-president of product marketing at SAP, said SOAs and NetWeaver will help companies gain the benefits of building custom software.

According to Inbar, the ESA program helps companies define main events and roles and create a process map. It will also help them pick what features they will use from out-of-the-box SAP or other third-party software and what they will have to write themselves.

The program is designed for users looking to evolve their IT infrastructures without completely taking down their existing installations, SAP said.

Additionally, this month IBM Global Services took the wraps off services designed for IT managers to plan, design, implement and manage SOAs. The “asset-based services” feature IBM software code, intellectual property (IP) and best practices.

According to IBM, the services are based on industry-specific platforms to enable the quickest possible deployment of new technology. According to Michael Liebow, vice-president of SOA and Web services at IBM Global Services, the biggest challenge for organizations seeking to deploy an SOA is how and where they should start.

Liebow said IBM defines an SOA as a framework that pulls resources from underlying ap- plications for use in a loosely coupled application infrastructure. He added that the vendor’s new services are based on industry-specific platforms to enable the fast deployment of a new framework.

An industry-specific approach defines common design and implementation techniques and can be applied to vertical appli- cations such as financial services.

For example, Design Services for SOA will help enterprises create a strategy and an architectural design for their SOA, while Business Enablement Services for SOA will identify how an SOA can meet business goals.

Other IBM services include Implementation Services for SOA, for deploying targeted aspects of an SOA and Management Services for SOA, which provides ongoing performance monitoring.

Not to be outdone, both Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are at work putting their own stamp on SOA. But is it all so much hype? From an enterprise perspective, the ability to hook up disparate applications can help solve integration woes. In a nutshell, SOA should enable enterprises to align IT with specific business goals, which then can be translated into services in an SOA environment.

Warren Shiau, an independent software analyst based in Toronto, said only a small number of Canadian companies have embraced SOA within an IT architecture. This largely has to do with the difficulty in migrating over to the framework, Shiau said. Organizations will need to determine which business applications are best suited for SOA.

SOA, in and of itself, really isn’t that complicated, Shiau said. “If everyone was starting from a clean slate perhaps it wouldn’t be so hard.” Most enterprises are dealing with disparate systems and legacy applications and they need to integrate these systems to exist in a Web services-compliant world in order to develop a true SOA, he added.

Vendors are attempting to make the SOA concept more attractive to enterprises by offering products and services to lower the costs of implementing the framework, Shiau said.

— with files from IDG News Service

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