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The top SOA/Web services stories of 2006, part 1

This first of two year-in-review articles includes WS-Policy, agile development, the changing ESB and Eclipse getting more involved with SOA and Web services.

Like 2005 before it, 2006 turned out to be a busy year for service-oriented architecture and Web services. In fact, there's been so much activity in the space for such a long time that it undermines complaints about the hype around SOA.

I think the idea of the SOA megasuite is too un-SOA in philosophy.
Ron Schmelzer
Senior AnalystZapThink LLC

Sure, there's always hype around a hot technology, or in this case a hot methodology for deploying technology. Yet the sheer weight of new SOA-themed products, of new SOA standards, of changes in the industry caused by SOA and, most importantly, of users actually embracing SOA is massive.

That's not hype. It's a movement, one worthy of a year-end countdown. We've picked out the top eight stories from the past year and we'll be covering numbers five through eight in this installment.

8. WS-Policy finally reaches a standards body

In April WS-Policy officially entered the W3C, giving this eagerly awaited new specification a standards home. Proponents have positioned WS-Policy as a critical element for loosely coupled services .

The specification has on the fast track and could reach full standard status within weeks.

"I think policy in general is an extremely important concept that needs to come to some sort of rapid maturation," said Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions LLC. "Services need to be able to work together."

Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst with ZapThink LLC, sees WS-Policy as a good first step, but warns that it only establishes a container for sharing policies, not the vocabulary for declaring the policies themselves.

"It's necessary, but not sufficient," he said. "It's not enough to solve the problems of policy interoperability by itself."

7. SOA gets agile

SOA stresses architecture and re-orientation. On the development front, part of the re-orientation seems to have settled around the concept of agile development. As the argument goes, you won't really build anything different if you keep trying to build things the same way.

Agile programming has received endorsements from the Google IT shop and has been offered up as the ideal methodology for SOA development. Those who've embraced it insist agile pays off.

"The movement to agile is an acknowledgment that the traditional approach to development doesn't work, particular with services," Schmelzer said. "You've got to deal with multiple layers of continuous change."

Gardner said that SOA will require developers to consider a service or service component's entire lifecycle, not just the requirements of a single project.

"You can't afford to forget about it after you build it," he said. He added that iterative development makes "people and process more important than just code."

Both he and Schmelzer believe agile has emerged as a best practice for development.

6. The ESB gets reinvented

You could tell something was afoot in January when Progress Software bought Web services management vendor Actional and combined it with the Sonic Software ESB. Then Sun Microsystems offered up an ESB as part of its Composite Application Platform.

The year saw Iona Technologies target incremental, lightweight SOA development with its ESB and JBoss enter the open source ESB ranks. Meanwhile hardware vendors tried to muscle in on the ESB.

Clearly the ESB was evolving far beyond its messaging roots. For those trying to follow along at home, we created an ESB market report.

"Whether people break it out or make it part of the complete solution is where we're at now," Gardner said.

Schmelzer viewed much of the changes as attempts to fit the enterprise service bus into a sensible SOA infrastructure. In particular he's down on the notion of the ESB as the central cog in an SOA software stack.

"I think the idea of the SOA mega-suite is too un-SOA in philosophy," he said.

Gardner believes ESBs will need to continue to prove themselves capable of more than messaging, imbedding themselves in larger business processes.

"For instance, I'm not sure you can include governance in an ESB, but to exploit governance through an ESB is another matter," he said.

5. Eclipse targets Web services and SOA

At the start of the year, the Eclipse Foundation promised it was pursuing SOA tooling and it had a working blueprint for its SOA Tools Project by the end of the summer. While the SOA tools won't be officially available until next summer, Eclipse Callisto release this summer featured a pile of Web services enablement tools.

For more information
SOA after the hype

Check out our SOA Learning Guide

Eclipse in fact has become such a major player in the Web services space that we put together an Eclipse Learning Guide.

"It's hard to find anyone who's got anything bad to say about Eclipse," Gardner said.

Both he and Schmelzer agreed that Eclipse has become the main integrated development environment for those not inside the Microsoft cloud. Schmelzer praised it for reinforcing the SOA concept of modularity during design time.

Gardner said "it's auspicious to see open source SOA tools this early, normally it would take years before you saw something like this in open source."

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