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SOA in a box?

British Telecom provides an SOA appliance running Sonic's ESB as part of a technology model dubbed "service-oriented infrastructure."

British Telecommunications plc (BT), a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT Group, and Sonic Software, an operating unit of Progress Software Corp., are working together to offer a product that the vendors describe as SOA in a box.

It's really integration in a box.
Paul Moxon
Senior Director of Product Management Sonic

As part of a new business model for selling SOA services, BT will literally overnight a computing appliance with a power cord and two ports to its network customers who sign up for the subscription-based BT Integrate service, said Paul Moxon, senior director of product management for Sonic. BT consultants will work with business analysts at the customer site to determine the scope of the initial implementation and the nitty-gritty of the application integration.

When the package arrives, the customer plugs the appliance into the power source, runs a cable from the box to the network and has the option of running a cable to a second box for failover, Moxon explained. Once the box is online, it automatically contacts the BT operations center and software, including Sonic's Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), and configurations mapped out by the consultants are downloaded to the appliance.

"So the customer doesn't have to worry about doing that themselves," Moxon said. "It's really integration in a box."

This appears to be the ultimate in the incremental philosophy of SOA implementation and the Sonic executive said it offers opportunities for both the customer and BT. There is no large upfront investment in the hardware or software. The customer is billed monthly as part of the regular billing for their BT network services.

"This is a low cost of entry," he said, "because BT is viewing this as a long-term relationship with the end user, a way of going from managing their networks to managing their integration infrastructure. They're not looking for the half-million upfront payment."

But BT Integrate is not a marketing scheme dreamed up by BT and Sonic, said Stefan Van Overtveldt, vice president for IT Transformation in BT Global Services.

"This is not something we thought up in a boardroom," he said. "This has come to fruition through very active engagements with a limited set of customers." The BT customers that asked for the SOA in a box service include companies in a variety of industries including transportation, retail banking, investment banking, government healthcare, manufacturing and construction, he said.

What emerged from the customers' dialog with BT Global Services has been given a new technology moniker, said Van Overtveldt.

"We're definitely seeing this as a new way of approaching the entire SOA paradigm," he said. "In fact, we're beginning to call this service-oriented infrastructure."

The concept came from BT's working with a customer wanting data synchronization or information replication, which Van Overtveldt calls "one of the simplest things you can do as you begin to implement the service-oriented architecture." While the synchronization looked good on paper and even when it was tested in the lab, it did not work to the customers' satisfaction when it was implemented because their networks didn't have the bandwidth.

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"We were working with a customer who has this exact simple requirement," he said. "It's basically information replication or data synchronization, but fairly large volumes. In their lab environment they had two databases and put a traditional integration broker in between and they can easily get to 500 to 600 updates a second. But that's because they're running on a gigabit Ethernet with basically zero latency. Expand this out into putting this into production where they want to replicate this information between a data center in the UK and one in Hong Kong, the number of updates they can get drops under 20 (per second) but they need 300."

Thus the concept of SOA in a box was born along with the BT Integrate product that uses the Sonic ESB to supply the scalability and performance customers were demanding.

"We provide application integration capability that's delivered through the network by putting highly powered appliances at the edges of the network," Van Overtveldt said.

BT Integrate is available in the UK starting this month and during the rest of this year it will roll out globally to 160 countries where it offers networking services.

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