SOA: Spawning an IT services market

Adopting a service-oriented architecture (SOA) promises to transform rigid networks into flexible, agile application services delivery platforms that compile disparate IT components on the fly to meet business demands. The concept appeals to many — 87 per cent of 100 CIOs recently polled by Goldman Sachs say they are using Web services now, and 54 percent plan to deploy infrastructure to support SOA by year-end. But many IT executives still have trouble identifying the practical steps needed to achieve an enterprise SOA. Vendors are more than willing to jump in and help out.

The catch is that SOA isn’t easily packaged into new software license sales for vendors. SOA is more about changing the way IT delivers application services through architecture than getting a specific technology set in place.

For instance, Web services technology and enterprise service bus (ESB) products could be part of an SOA, but companies using Web services and ESBs don’t necessarily have an SOA. To make money in a growing yet still ambiguous market — the overall Web services market is expected to reach US$21 billion by 2007, IDC says — vendors are adapting product-based sales pitches into services that offer to assess SOA readiness, govern SOA development and manage SOA implementations.

“The dirty little secret of SOA is that it doesn’t require buying a lot of new software. SOA is architecture, and SOA is hard. It’s not a one-off software project,” said Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst with ZapThink.

The buzz comes from companies such as BEA Systems, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Siebel and Sun, which have spent the last year rolling out SOA services and establishing resource centers that are designed to help enterprises get on the path toward SOA. These vendors also provide technology components that could become part of a larger SOA, such as application servers, middleware software, integration platforms, ESBs, Web services and application development tools.

The services options

For example, last spring IBM unveiled services for planning, designing, implementing and managing SOA. HP in June launched SOA consulting services and opened four SOA competency centers aimed at helping business customers with everything from envisioning their SOA to rolling out and running it. BEA in May designed SOA services for government and public sector companies, and began offering an online assessment tool for measuring an organization’s plans against a given methodology.

The tool, called BEA Service-Oriented Architecture Readiness Self-Assessment, reports on results and recommends pricing.

SOA services could involve consultants meeting on-site with technologists and business managers to determine exactly what the company wants out of an SOA and where to start based on the current application infrastructure architecture.

SOA can be put to use on internal integration efforts, but ideally it’s set up to span IT and application silos and make code available for reuse across the company.

According to ZapThink, 80 percent of money spent today on SOA initiatives is for professional services, not software. “Spending should continue to go in that direction,” said Schmelzer.

Unlike with software purchases, services spending is expected and almost required with SOA, because development requires less new code and more reworking of existing applications. Yet, when it comes to buying SOA services, IT managers have to be sure they are investing in SOA and process expertise and not paying the vendor to get its software up and running.

The challenge for IT managers will be to determine which vendors have the lion’s share of expertise when it comes to designing architecture and establishing processes to support an SOA going forward.

“Right now the biggest ‘gotcha’ with SOA is market confusion and lack of understanding,” said Teresa Jones, a senior research analyst at Butler Group. “ESB and Web services vendors could promise to deliver SOA and fail, because their technology is just one facilitator to SOA. Wrapping an application up as a Web service doesn’t necessarily make it reusable.”

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