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SOA business logic without coding?

At this week's Open Group conference, the founder of TenFold makes a bold claim that code-free Web services can be built using only the business logic behind the services.

Jeff Walker went to this week's Open Group Enterprise Architects Practitioners Conference in San Diego looking to blow a few minds with the notion that service-oriented architecture really can be achieved with a minimum of coding.

A lot of people hear about it and say, 'That can't possibly be true.'
Jeff Walker
Founder and CTOTenFold Inc.

Walker, founder and CTO of TenFold Inc. and also the founder of Oracle Corp.'s applications business, admitted he usually gets a skeptical reception when he explains how to build and expose Web services without coding, but he insists it can be done by treating Web services as an enterprise application rather than as an app dev tool.

In an interview prior to his conference presentation, he said, "A lot of people haven't heard of us, most people. And most people don't even think it's possible to do this. A lot of people hear about it and say, 'That can't possibly be true.'"

A speaker in an earlier session had scoffed at predictions made early in the SOA hype cycle that sales managers would soon be building composite applications. Skepticism about "without programming" claims probably dates back at least to the 4GL languages of the 1980s that were marketed with similar boasts.

But in his corner, Walker has Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst with ZapThink LLC., who wrote this past summer that one of the challenges for SOA was to enable the simplified creation of Service-Oriented Business Applications (SOBA) by composing services.

"TenFold takes a model-driven approach to composite application creation with their Enterprise TenFold SOA tool, providing a rapid, iterative approach to dynamic composite application creation that enables business users to model their requirements and then render applications minimizing the need for writing any programming code," the analyst wrote.

Contacted after Walker's talk, Bloomberg noted that the TenFold technology is more focused than tools that claim developers will never have to write another line of Java or C# again.

"The TenFold tool is especially good at building Web applications as well as Web services that can be incorporated into SOA implementations," the analyst explained. "But it's not intended as a be all and end all of service creation, but rather it's ideally suited for creating those services that expose the capabilities of the applications constructed within the tool. In other words, it's a Web application generation tool that can generate Web services for integration and incorporation into broader SOA implementations."

As an example, Walker said that an auto insurance company used the TenFold tool to build a Web-based application, which agents use to quickly generate quotes. They can plug a prospect's auto information and driving record into the Web page and the app produces a rate quote. Recently, a company that provides comparative car insurance quotes on their Website approached this insurer and said they wanted to be able to send them an XML message with a customer's auto information and get a quote back in XML.

"They were able to implement that service in a day or two by exposing part of their TenFold application as a service," Walker said. "They used our technology to describe the incoming XML message with no programming. They got a sample XML message and tested it to be sure they could read the XML clearly. Then they said when this XML message comes in, we'd like to map it into this quote application, fill in the data and then put the quote in an outgoing XML message. All of that they could describe without doing any coding."

The secret sauce that makes this possible is a collection of standard business components that TenFold programmers have written so the end users don't need to code the applications themselves, Walker said. He compared his tool to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet program that allows users to add in complex arithmetic without having to create any of the basic formulas to sum a column of numbers or whatever the task is.

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"Excel puts the description of your spreadsheet in a file called .xls," he explained. "That's the spreadsheet you're building. The magic in Excel is the program, Excel.exe, which reads your description and renders your spreadsheet. The code that you execute when you're running a spreadsheet is the code Microsoft gave you before you created your spreadsheet. The amazing thing is that every Excel spreadsheet in the world runs on exactly the same code base. And another amazing thing is that whoever programmed Excel was so smart that they wrote the code to run the spreadsheet that you haven't created yet."

TenFold took an Excel-like approach to creating a tool for building applications, Walker said. "When you build an application, we provide you with a user interface that lets you describe the application, no programming," he said. "We store the description in a relational database. Then we also provide something called a rendering engine. It's a set of technologies that reads your description and renders your application."

Addressing the skeptics who still say "this cannot possibly work," Walker says they can download a free copy of the tool from the Tenfold Website and test it for themselves.

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