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SOA, big vendors respond to shifts in business needs

IT shops are being asked to generate revenue, not just reduce costs. They're finding that SOA is the way to do this and big vendors are responding accordingly.

Does acceptance define legitimacy?

Web services and service-oriented architectures (SOA) are apparently going to find out soon.

In the past month, IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., SAP AG and Microsoft Corp., have announced products, acquisitions or partnerships that confirm big vendors are making unprecedented commitments to Web services and SOA.

Customers need to grow revenue. It's not just a focus around reducing costs. With the assets they have, they're being asked to pull value from all the investments they've made in the last 30 years.

Paul Brunet

Program director for SOA and Web services

IBM Corp.

They're doing so in response to a shift in the way C-level executives are looking at IT shops. More and more are requiring tighter alignment of IT with business, and that translates into an efficient use of resources, rather than strictly cutting costs.

"Customers need to grow revenue. It's not just a focus around reducing costs," said IBM's Paul Brunet, program director for SOA and Web services. "With the assets they have, they're being asked to pull value from all the investments they've made in the last 30 years. Services and re-use are a way of doing that."

IBM has probably been the most aggressive of the major vendors toward SOA, announcing in April a spate of services and software to help customers get started with an implementation. Last week, it added to that initiative with the opening of four SOA Design Centers. The facilities, staffed by IBM engineers and service professionals, will work with customers on software features (security, management, enterprise service buses, for example) and best practices they need to pull off a successful SOA implementation. Those best practices and software features will then be built back into an IBM product, Brunet said.

"SOA is a realignment of how technology applies to business," Brunet said. "Companies are coming to the realization that this is becoming real."

Gartner Inc. is telling its clients that service-oriented business applications (SOBAs) will cause a shift among software vendors, and that applications will be delivered as services that can be composed and decomposed. Vendors failing to do so will go away, said research director Charles Abrams during last month's Application Integration and Web Services Summit in Los Angeles.

SOBAs will enable companies to compose applications according to business needs, and eventually will link business apps like ERP, CRM and supply chain management in real time.


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"They will enable real-time uses of structured information to enable enterprises to be competitive," Abrams said. "SOBAs are the key technology for business-process fusion."

Leading vendors like IBM, SAP, Oracle Corp., BEA Systems Inc. and Microsoft among others have expressed a SOBA road map, Abrams said. Joanne Correia, lead analyst of Gartner's software industry research, went further and said that quintet would be the last five major vendors standing by 2007.

"By 2007, Web services will be baked into existing applications and 41% of enterprise software will be Web-services enabled," Correia predicted.

SAP has also taken the SOA plunge announcing at its Sapphire user conference an extension of its partnership with Microsoft to integrate more of its NetWeaver platform with .NET, as well as plans for an Enterprise Services Architecture that will be enabled by NetWeaver.

SAP and Microsoft are not alone. HP recently acquired management firm Talking Blocks and will integrate it into its OpenView systems management platform. BEA has also made noise about the connection between its WebLogic platform and SOA to help enterprises move to the design concept.

SOA, meanwhile, is not a new concept, but it is gaining attention today because of the standards available, in particular the ratification of WS-Security by OASIS in April.

"There is not a large fear of standards any more," said IBM's Brunet, "The next challenge we're hearing from customers is about skills and knowledge. They are coming to the realization that this is real and do they have the skills in house to do this."

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