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MDA aligns with SOA, Eclipse

Looking to bring separate levels of abstraction together, model-driven architecture proponents are building deeper ties to service-oriented architecture.

One of the ways to judge the power of a given technology is its ability to pull other technologies into its orbit.

Of late, model-driven architecture (MDA) vendors have been standardizing on the Eclipse development platform while MDA standards are becoming more SOA aware by incorporating Web services business process languages and XML metadata interchanges.

"The MDA folks need to support the kind of development people want to do and right now that's SOA," said Burton Group analyst Anne Thomas Manes. "If they don't, they risk irrelevancy."

Looking to harness the momentum of the open source community growing around SOA, Detroit-based Compuware Corp. plans to build all future editions of its OptimalJ Java development environment on the Eclipse platform. The latest iteration marks the first steps in this direction, coming fully equipped with a developer edition for Eclipse.

Service-oriented architecture is a complex environment. It's always a really good idea to model that complexity
Anne Thomas Manes
AnalystBurton Group

"There's a tremendous amount of momentum around Eclipse," said Mike Burba, marketing director at Compuware. "We don't have to worry about plugging into every other IDE now that Eclipse is becoming the main platform."

He called the ascendance of the Eclipse integration framework "the death of the commercial IDE," adding that it frees up Compuware to focus on building value on top of the IDE, such as "forming models for working applications."

That is precisely the mantra that commercial tools vendors Borland Corp., BEA Systems Inc. and Oracle Corp. are chanting. The three IDE vendors recently joined the Eclipse foundation and will lead various Eclipse projects. Like Compuware, Borland's MDA modeling tool will be built on top of Eclipse.

Greater harmony between SOA and MDA allows them to leverage each other's strengths.

Service-oriented architecture promotes the idea of platform-independent business services, where the underlying technology can range from .NET to Cobol. MDA, on the other hand, prescribes a similar, platform-agnostic approach to development.

MDA's top down approach is a philosophy also espoused by one school of thought in the SOA world -- business analysts who advocate that the correct way to develop a service-oriented application is by first defining the business processes instead of simply wrapping existing applications with Web services.

"Service-oriented architecture is a complex environment," Manes said. "It's always a really good idea to model that complexity."

OMG bridges MDA, BPM

However, the vendor community is hardly alone in tying the two architectural models together. Earlier this month the Object Management Group (OMG), which oversees the standards development for MDA including Unified Modeling Language, merged its business process management activities with the Business Process Management Initiative.

The merger unifies many MDA and SOA standards under a single business processes umbrella, bringing Business Process Modeling Notation, which connects business users to SOA processes, into the OMG. Recently released UML 2.0 also features an OMG standard called XML Metadata Interchange, which enables a UML model to be transferred into a repository for the next step in the development process.

Jon Siegel, OMG's vice president of technology transfer, pointed out that MDA works one level of abstraction higher than SOA, offering the ability to perform automated code generation and build industry standards that can then plug into an SOA.

"We start with a model of business functionality and behavior and work from there," he said.

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That business-level focus is what many hope will make MDA a popular choice in the potentially unruly SOA universe.

"We believe MDA is the right way to do SOA," Burba said. "When you describe services, you describe them as business services. That is the level of abstraction that MDA uses."

Yet Manes warned that UML still has to prove it can effectively model a services architecture and that none of this architectural work would prove itself to be easy. She added that MDA's similarities to distributed objects could cause confusion for those who fail to understand the differences.

"Mistakes definitely will be made along the way," she said.

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