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SOA myths debunked

A recent forum on service-oriented architecture tries to expose a few myths about how SOAs relate to Web services.

Enterprise developers, decision makers and industry analysts said that there is confusion when it comes to relating Web services and service-oriented architectures (SOAs).

A recent forum sponsored by analyst firm Zapthink LLC of Waltham, Mass., tried to lift some of the fog.

Web services are a standard means of defining an application interface, said senior analyst Ronald Schmelzer. These standards are important because they allow systems of different types to communicate with each other without having to know a proprietary protocol, he said.

On the other hand, Schmelzer said during a panel discussion at the ZapForum, SOAs are based on guiding architectural principals and best practices that allow a Web service application's functionality to be asserted in an open manner.

"The key here is that you can use Web Services to build SOAs," Schmelzer said. But, he added, SOAs aren't entirely dependent on Web services standards. SOAs can also be made up of CORBA and other standards.

Panelist Ben Moreland, manager of foundation services with The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. in Hartford, Conn., said his company, an investment insurance provider, has successfully deployed a SOA. He said his company's Web-based agent portal is completely service based and its customer service center has about 20 XML services.

"From an enterprise perspective, we have two services that are in production that have multiple apps using those services," Moreland said.

Moreland said his company uses a SOA approach to exchange documents and files between various insurance agents and carriers. He said that insurance agents broadcast information about clients to his company's participating carriers in an Accord XML document format. Then any necessary changes are made and the documents are retransmitted, he said.

He said deploying Web services applications becomes easier once a company starts taking the SOA approach.

"When you develop a service the first time, you base it on the application that needs it," Moreland said. But "whenever you want to expose that (application) to the enterprise, suddenly you find that maybe it's not robust enough and more work has to go into it."

Schmelzer said there are many myths about SOAs. For one thing, he said, there is a common misconception that SOAs solve all integration problems.

"SOAs only solve integration problems that result from tightly coupled systems," he said. "Semantic integration issues, in particular, still remain after an SOA is implemented."

The analyst said SOAs aren't as difficult to implement as many people think either. Companies that take an incremental approach to implementing a SOA, rather than an enterprise-wide, top-down approach, generally have best results, he said.

Schmelzer also debunked the myth that SOAs are controlled by Microsoft and IBM. In fact, he said, SOA adoption is fundamentally a business-driven effort, and no one controls SOA implementation.

"I think the biggest myth about (SOAs) is that they're not happening," said Reactivity Inc. chief technology officer John Lilly, another panelist. "People are doing them and making money on them."

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