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IBM, Red Hat build SOA virtualization into Unix/Linux servers

IBM is pre-loading software configured for start-up SOA projects on its pSeries Unix servers with virtualization capabilities as part of a strategy designed to speed adoption of the service-oriented approach. Red Hat has done the same, adding JBoss software to its Enterprise Linux 5 servers.

Seeking to spur adoption of service-oriented architecture, IBM and Red Hat Inc. made parallel announcements today with both tying their SOA development capabilities to server virtualization inside their hardware offerings.

There's no question that highly scalable, reliable, cost-effective SOA implementations could clearly benefit from well-planned virtualization strategies."
Jason Bloomberg
Senior AnalystZapThink LLC

The new IBM products, which will begin shipping this spring, will basically provide SOA in a box for organizations at what IBM calls the "entry point" in the adoption curve. IBM pSeries Unix servers will arrive at the customers door with a basic SOA configuration that includes IBM WebSphere and Tivoli software.

"You can buy one to get started," said Scott Handy, vice president worldwide marketing and strategy for IBM system p. "We've come up with a configuration for you and a how to get started guide, and a setup guide and some customer usage scenarios based on customers who have actually used that set of SOA software on a system p."

Advanced POWER Virtualization, IBM's virtualization technology is optional, but highly recommended, Handy said. With virtualization an organization with a single server can run SOA modules on multiple partitions, as well as on different flavors of the Unix operating system, he said.

In a parallel announcement today, Red Hat Inc. has combined the JBoss Enterprise Middleware stack with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, mixing the SOA capabilities of JBoss' enterprise service bus and business process management tools with the Linux server virtualization capabilities.

IBM's virtualization technology was originally developed to shift processing resources to meet peaks in demand, Handy explained. In an SOA environment, business rules could be set for various modules to handle their unique resource requirements.

"For the SOA environment we've actually been recommending it," he said. "We have it built into our configurations. For certain processes you want to have virtually unlimited resources. For others you would be able to cap or you want to give them different resources at different times of the day. You want user-based applications to have higher access or more computing resources from 9-to-5, but during the evening you switch to a different set of profiles. Virtualization allows you to do that."

Virtualization may be in SOA's future, but it remains a tricky sell, partially because in IT organizations the SOA experts and the virtualization experts inhabit two separate worlds, said Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst for ZapThink LLC.

"Even though SOA is a type of virtualization, application virtualization, if you will, the worlds of SOA and processor virtualization like IBM's POWER Virtualization have largely been separate concerns in the enterprise," the analyst explained. "Our discussions with enterprise architects have indicated that the problem is that conversations about SOA and virtualization require different skill sets and appear in separate areas of concern, so it's rare that the two efforts are well-coordinated."

Regardless of its potential value, virtualization for SOA will require a strong marketing story, Bloomberg said.

"There's no question that highly scalable, reliable, cost-effective SOA implementations could clearly benefit from well-planned virtualization strategies," he said. "IBM sees this need, and is well positioned to fill it. The challenge they will have, however, is in identifying the right customer contacts who can put the SOA and virtualization stories together effectively."

According to the Red Hat, virtualization optimizes SOA in three important areas:

  • Abstraction isolates the operating system and the SOA services and processes from the underlying hardware. It is easy to build an SOA service and redeploy as many copies as are needed for workload management, availability and security reasons.
  • Isolation provided by virtualization allows SOA services and processes to be hosted in individual containers. Each container can be run on a system without any concern about it taking the system down, exploiting other containers from a security point-of-view or causing other SOA services, processes and applications to fail.
  • Flexibility enabled by live migration, coupled with virtualization allows IT to move running instances of SOA services and processes around without any noticeable user disruption. IT can load balance, offload, and move SOA services and processes away from failing systems.

Judith Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz & Associates, does see an immediate market for the overall strategy of putting SOA in a box as a startup kit, especially for mid-sized business with limited internal resources.

She said clients she talks with are interested in SOA, but find the prospect of starting a project somewhat daunting. They tell her things like: "We decided we were going to get into SOA, but we're a little overwhelmed. We're not quite sure where to start. We know we want to do SOA but what do we do?"

"So there's a sense of being overwhelmed," she said.

She compares the plight of the SOA entry level people to a customer who likes the look of a bookcase at Ikea, but when they buy it they find they are taking home a box of 60 parts and they have no idea how to put the thing together.

"You get it home and you panic," Hurwitz said. "You say, 'I'm not a carpenter. I'm not good at putting things together.' That's sort of what's happened with phase one of SOA."

In her analogy, a vendor who can tie it all together is going to show up like a knight in a shining tool belt.

"They are going to take those Ikea pieces and put them together for you," she said. "You can have the enterprise service bus configured. We'll configure the portal and we'll put it together for you. Here it is on a platform that's nicely partitioned and scaleable."

This will save the customer the learning curve and development time that would go into just getting to square one with an SOA project, she said. They can take the pre-loaded box and start working on services applications for their business.

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"It gets the basic building blocks in place to get started," Hurwitz said. "This is what customers need. Right now, phase one SOA has been too much starting from scratch."

Hurwitz sees this strategy appealing to mid-size business and to an extent she sees today's announcements as what Yogi Berra called "déjà vu all over again."

"It reminds me very much of the AS/400," she said of that hardware system's 1988 debut. "When the AS/400 was announced the distinguishing feature of that system was that it was a fully-formed platform. Plus IBM went to market with these vertical application packages. If you were a gas station with three pumps, you bought yourself an AS/400 and it had everything included. It had the operating system, the data base, the management software and it had your vertical market apps. So you just plugged it in. So I think that's what we're talking about here."

But even if today's virtual SOA machine is something pulled out of the product marketing recycle bin, Hurwitz does believe it can spur SOA development by making it easier to get started.

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