IBM today addressed what many view as the gaping hole in its service-oriented architecture portfolio, unveiling a plan to release five specific products, most notably a registry/repository, around SOA governance.
While IBM has long been at the forefront of the SOA movement, it has left it to smaller vendors to build the registries and policy compliance engines that lie at the heart of it. That will change in the coming months as Big Blue brings together a registry/repository, a data architect tool and SOA monitoring/management functionality to address the realm that increasingly goes by the name of "governance" these days.
Michael Liebow, vice president of SOA and Web services for IBM Business Consuting Services, offered this basic explanation of what SOA governance entails: "How do I gain control over this thing so it's not so chaotic?"
He noted that corporations need to make sure services initiatives are standardized across the enterprise, that a culture of reuse is supported and that the success of the individual business services gets measured.
"It's not just IT governance," Liebow said. "It's more aligned to corporate governance."
He added that companies in the early stages of SOA adoption are desperately trying to figure out how to maintain control over SOA so it doesn't grow up to be all the things they don't want it to be. "It's something they are struggling with in many respects," Liebow said.
While he stressed that governance entails much more than just a registry/repository product, IBM's entrance into that market is notable. It plans to debut the registry in the second half of the year and it intends to build the product from scratch rather than buy up one of the existing smaller vendors.
"We look at the marketplace all the time and we didn't see anything that met customer requirements," Liebow said.
He said the keys for a good registry/repository offering are its ability to facilitate the creation of reusable services, centralized management for services, standards enforcement and the promotion of overarching business objectives.
Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst with ZapThink LLC, praised Big Blue's latest announcement.
"No enterprise will build services in an SOA that are ungoverned and unmanaged," he said. "While IBM is new to the market with their registry/repository capabilities, if their previous patterns hold, they will increasingly incorporate these offerings into more of their solution offerings, making it competitive quickly in the market."
Independent analyst Amy Wohl noted that size might matter as IBM rolls into this space.
"Smaller vendors may have excellent ideas, but it may be hard for them to build systems that scale for large enterprises," she said.
Though don't expect smaller vendors to give up the governance ghost because IBM intends to join the mix. For instance, Flashline Inc. has just released version 5.1 of its registry/repository product, complete with starter patterns for customers just beginning SOA adoption and enhanced policy management capabilities inside its repository. It also offers integration with major management vendors such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and CA Inc.
"It's the continuous iteration of trying something, getting customer feedback, trying something, getting customer feedback that makes great products," said Flashline CEO Charles Stack. "You can't shortcut that."
Flashline has had support for much of IBM's software stack since 2002 and Stack mused, "It will interesting to see whether our product is better integrated with their stuff than theirs."
In addition to the WebSphere-branded registry/repository, the IBM governance package includes:
- An SOA governance and management methodology much like the Flashline starter patterns concept, enabling customers to take a governance blueprint and then customize it.
- IBM Rational Data Architect, which will keep data formats standardized as part of service creation, available immediately.
- IBM Tivoli Change and Configuration Management Database, which will discover and manage information about a client's SOA environment, available second quarter.
- Workplace Business Strategy Execution, which provides a business dashboard for SOA activity, available immediately.
Schmelzer liked the multidisciplinary approach IBM is taking to the governance problem, incorporating three of its main software lines.
"Governance requires significant leg work in establishing policies, communicating them, measuring compliance and then mitigating changes," he said. "These require human activities that in turn require professional services capabilities if the customers can't do them on their own. Therefore, IBM's approach to the market is remarkable in its breadth of capability and holistic nature that includes people, process, as well as technology."