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Why SOA needs IT management

IT best practices originally codified in the UK in the 1980s, the ITIL, now offer a framework for keeping track of all the moving parts in SOA implementations.

In the era of hardware and software silos and hardwired networks it might have been possible to get by with putting basic system management procedures on yellow sticky notes in the computer room. But service-oriented architecture makes that approach to IT management obsolete, says Mary Johnston Turner, vice president of the Ovum Corp.'s Summit analyst firm.

The more you rely on SOA the more pressure that's put on traditional IT management.
Mary Johnston Turner
Vice PresidentOvum Corp.'s Summit Analyst Firm

One approach to coping with all the nitty-gritty IT management issues involved in maintaining an SOA application is the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework, she said. In contrast to SOA, there is nothing new about ITIL. It was originally developed by the UK Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) in the 1980s in an early attempt to align IT with business goals.

"It's non-proprietary," says Ken Hamilton, director of IT service management education at Hewlett-Packard Corp., where he advocates the use of ITIL with SOA. "There's a publicly available set of books describing it."

For those IT professionals not yet ready for a set of books, Hamilton points to definitions and information on ITIL provided byUK Office of Government Commerce, and HP's online library of ITIL materials. He also has an Ovum Summit report written by Turner on the need to upgrade IT management for SOA success.

In defining the management framework, Turner says, "ITIL is a set of best practices guidelines for executing a number of very common operational tasks that IT needs to undertake to deliver end-to-end services to their business users. It includes things like change management, configuration management, capacity planning, service level tracking, performance management, availability management."

Prior to the development of these ITIL guidelines, she said there was no general agreement on the nitty-gritty tasks required to make composite applications work.

Hamilton said that while ITIL is more than a decade old, it is only in the past three or four years that he has seen Fortune 500 companies, such as General Motors, adopting it. Turner said the level of detail covered by ITIL wasn't necessarily needed before silos gave way to SOA with "all its moving parts."

"It wasn't so hard when you lived in a siloed universe where you had the server, the middleware, the applications, the database, all tightly coupled together in one place," she said. "If you had a problem with any of those pieces, you knew pretty quick what business process it was impacting. The business process was basically hardwired into the application. Now, in our brave new world of SOA, you've got lots of little pieces of software and services sitting on different servers, in different places, talking to each other at different times depending on who needs what."

In the SOA world, it's not so easy for an IT manager to know what's going on or in the worst case scenario what's going wrong.

"Now you've got this really interesting problem," Turner said. "How do I know if my end-to-end business process is working? And if it's not working, how do I figure out which one of those interconnected pieces is the culprit."

As an example, she said there might be a failure in your business process because another IT professional changed the configuration of an application, which your application depends upon, without telling you. That is where a framework as detailed as ITIL would help prevent the problem by specifying that no one can just change a configuration on their own without letting anybody know.

In this context, Hamilton says he is seeing the beginning of a trend for ITIL and SOA convergence, but admits it is in such early stages that he does not have a customer reference for it yet.

Turner said that perhaps a third of IT organizations she surveyed are attempting to employ ITIL or other frameworks and that those using ITIL to manage SOA is still "very low."

However small the adoption might be at the moment, Turner said IT organizations beginning serious SOA implementations are going to have to put in place detailed procedures based either on ITIL or another quality framework such as Six Sigma if they hope to be successful.

"The more you rely on SOA the more pressure that's put on traditional IT management," she said. "If you don't have a good agreement as to the composite service you want to deliver and you don't know how to measure the end-to-end performance in a way that's going to show everyone that you did your job, it's going to be a nightmare."

A more detailed best practices framework is going to be required because IT management procedures that worked in the pre-SOA world are not likely to meet the needs.

"Traditional models are based on silos and SOA is the antithesis of a silo," she said.

For more information
SOA: Bridging the divide with IT

SOA governance defined

Also, while traditional models may have focused on the performance of hardware and software within a silo, a framework such as ITIL also covers how the IT workers themselves do their job, including making changes to hardware and software, and setting priorities for what work is done when.

"You may still have silo experts, who work on their little domain, but they've got to do it in a bigger context," Turner said of the SOA environment. "They have to understand the impact of changing something in their domain how it might impact other areas. Also, looking at the priorities of what gets done when. It may not always be that the next thing in your queue is the right thing to work on depending on what the business impact is."

Turner said the adoption of SOA will be a driver to management frameworks such as ITIL, but that they are unlikely to be successful unless they are championed by the CIO. Attempts to institute best practices by groups, such as the help desk crew, are not likely to meet with the success they might have if a C-level executive was leading the charge.

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