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An inside look at IBM's SOA plans, part 2

What's behind IBM's SOA strategy? What does it mean for enterprises, users and other vendors? That's what we'll examine in this second of a two-part column.

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Continued from Part One

IBM's recent emphasis on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) means that SOAs will ultimately move to center stage in corporations. Using an SOA, software components can be exposed as services on the network and can be re-used for different applications and purposes. With an SOA, developing new applications can be a matter of mix-and-match: Decide on the application that you need, find out the existing components that can help build that application, glue them all together and you're done.

In recent months, IBM has announced a comprehensive strategy for helping enterprises plan and build SOAs. But what's behind IBM's SOA strategy? What does it mean for enterprises, users and other vendors? That's what we'll examine in this second of a two-part column.

Analysts say it's good for everyone
Although you might think that Big Blue entering the SOA market with both feet might cause competitors to tremble, analysts say that's not necessarily the case. In fact, it may be that IBM's action will help everyone, competitors included.

"IBM has gotten the SOA gospel, and that's a good thing for everyone, competitors included," contends Ron Schmelzer, Senior Analyst with the Web services consulting group ZapThink. That's because whenever the company targets a technology, it lends legitimacy to that technology market. So the IBM stamp of approval means that it's more likely enterprises will begin spending on SOAs. And because even IBM can't completely dominate any technology market, it means that there will be room in that larger market for competitors.

Schmelzer says that IBM is doing much more than merely issuing a stamp of approval -- it's backing up its words with cold, hard cash. The investment it's making is so significant that IBM may by itself create the market and demand for SOAs.

"IBM will be spending to educate the market and enterprises about SOAs, and will be spending to deliver tools and services," Schmelzer says. "In fact, they may even single-handedly float the market. I've heard that they may spend one billion dollars on SOAs and so they may even spend more than the existing market size. In essence they may be paying people to become educated about SOAs and the people they're educating may or may not buy IBM tools. That's why what they're doing is good for the competition, because not everyone they're educating will become an IBM customer."

Of course, IBM isn't spending all that money out of the goodness of its own heart -- there's a method behind it. Schmelzer likens the IBM spending on SOAs to the company's e-Business initiative in the mid-1990s. The e-Business push, like IBM's push into SOAs, was made up of both services and products. IBM spent a great deal of money on promoting and marketing e-Business and "it ended up paying back in spades, because it made people realize they had a whole universe of needs, and got them looking at the entire IBM product and services family."

In the same way, he believes, IBM's promotion of SOAs will similarly pay off.

The link to on-demand computing
How will that pay-off come? Sophie Mayo, director of IDC's Web services implementation service, says that the real key to understanding IBM's SOA strategy is to recognize its link to IBM's current and future mantra -- on-demand computing. The company has essentially bet the farm on the future being on-demand computing, and SOAs are an important building block of its on-demand computing strategy, she says.

"IBM is looking at these SOA projects as enablers for its on-demand management," she says. "Companies that use SOAs will eventually migrate to an on-demand model, and so IBM is looking at SOAs to drive the demand for on-demand."

In particular, she says, SOAs will create the path for companies to outsource business processes and even entire data centers to IBM.

"If in an SOA you are able to describe the different layers of business processes and are able to separate them as separate modules, that makes it easier for companies to decide what should be in-sourced and what should be out-sourced," she says. Without an SOA, it would be difficult to even describe the different layers, much less separate them into separate modules. But once those modules are separated, it's easy to outsource some of them, and keep others in-house.

For example, Mayo points out that today you might be able to outsource an entire business process, for example human resources. But when an SOA is able to define and separate the components of every business process, it will be much easier to outsource individual components of a business process. So with an SOA, "you could outsource much nimbler processes, for example, not the entire human resources function, but just the hiring process."

That means with SOAs, companies will be more able to outsource smaller components of IT or business processes. And that plays directly into IBM's on-demand vision, in which companies only have to pay for computing resources that they use, and in which computing resources can be metered and paid for like you pay for water or electricity.

What it all means
All this is long-term vision, of course. Don't expect SOAs to become popular overnight. It's easy to forget that it took years of spending to convince people that e-Business and doing business over the Internet was a good thing. So expect a gradual process, not an overnight change. After all IBM has been in the business a long time. It can afford to invest for the long term.

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About the Author

Preston Gralla, a well-known technology expert, is the author of more than 20 books, including "How the Internet Works," which has been translated into 14 languages and sold several hundred thousand copies worldwide. He is an expert on Web services and the author of a major research and white paper for the Software and Information Industry Association on the topic. Gralla was the founding managing editor of PC Week, a founding editor and then editor and editorial director of PC/Computing, and an executive editor for ZDNet and CNet. He has written about technology for more than 15 years for many major magazines and newspapers, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek and its forerunner PC Week, PC/Computing, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Dallas Morning News among others. He can be reached at

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