The Web Services Advisor
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In the last six months, service-oriented architectures (SOAs) have made a lightning-fast leap from being an IT buzzword to being No. 1 on the development list for many enterprises.
SOAs are kind of an IT manager's Holy Grail, in which software components can be exposed as services on the network and be reused often for different applications and purposes. In SOA, developing new applications can be a matter of mix-and-match: Decide on the application that you need, find the existing components that can help build that application, glue them all together and you're done.
This month, we'll take a two-part look at SOAs. In part one, I'll look at what has happened in the last six months to make the technology an urgent one for enterprises and examine how companies are using SOAs today and are planning to use them tomorrow. In part two, I'll suggest how enterprises can implement SOAs.
It's all about the budgets
The biggest change in the way enterprises look at SOAs is as simple and basic as it gets: Six months ago, companies were just talking about SOAs. Now there's money in their budgets for building them.
Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst with ZapThink, said he's finding that businesses are adding SOAs in their 2005 budget plans and, when the new year hits, they'll start spending serious money in putting together the building blocks for SOAs.
"We're seeing that real money is being applied toward SOAs," he said. "Companies have been getting a better and better understanding of what SOAs are and why they might want one. And so now many are at the point where they are focusing on implementation, have the budgets for it and are looking for advice on how to go about doing it."
Another piece of evidence that SOAs are becoming real, rather than just being talked about, is that professional services firms such as Accenture and EDS have been building up their SOA consulting practices, Bloomberg said. Those companies would not be investing in their SOA consulting practices unless there is serious money on the table. And the fact that several of them are building up their SOA practices, instead of a single company focusing on it, is further evidence that SOAs will become increasingly important in 2005.
As to what firms are now serious about SOAs: "It's not just early adopters anymore," he said. SOAs have started to go mainstream.
Early adopters were insurance firms, financial services firms and the federal government, he said. But now firms of all types are building out SOAs, including those in manufacturing, travel, the media and retail. "It's becoming very broad based," Bloomberg added. And SOAs, he said, are particularly strong among companies interested in legacy system integration.
Still, it is surprising that there is some uptake among small and medium-sized businesses. Often, because SMBs do not have sizable budgets or large IT staffs, they are not able to take advantage of the newest enterprise technologies. The fact that they are eying SOAs shows just how widespread SOAs have become.
What the numbers say
Bloomberg isn't alone in his assessment of where SOAs are today and where they're headed. Other analyst firms and surveys concur with him. For example, a Yankee Group survey recently found that 75% of firms plan to invest in SOAs in the next year.
Philip Fersht, director of business applications and commerce research at the Yankee Group, said, "A lot of companies are considering applications that support SOAs. We were taken aback by how bullish they were."
The survey also found that wireless telecom and manufacturing firms (78%) and financial services (77%) expressed the greatest interest in SOAs, and health care firms (71%) showing a high degree of interest.
When building their SOAs, companies will be investing in applications servers, database tools and systems, and network management software, according to the survey.
Where we go from here
Expect to see SOAs becoming more mainstream in 2005, along with SOA-related products and services. But as with any new technology, there will be pitfalls along the way. SOAs have the potential to be a money pit, if only because there is no clear path for building them and the underlying concepts can be so fuzzy and vague that it can be easy to spend money to no effect.
In short, putting money toward an SOA is one thing, but using that money correctly and building the SOA properly is another thing entirely.
Continues in Part Two
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About the Author
Preston Gralla is an expert on Web services and is the author of more than 20 books, including How the Internet Works. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.