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Will the promises of Web services ever be realized?, part 1

In this first part of a two-part column, I'll take a look at IBM's new SOA announcement. In part 2, I'll take a look at what BEA is offering.

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) has been a hot topic for the past year, and is getting even hotter.

How hot? Within the last several weeks, both IBM and BEA Systems have announced major SOA initiatives, and have made it clear that, to a great extent, the future of Web services is intimately bound to that of SOAs. In fact, many people believe that only through SOAs will the promises of Web services ever be realized.

With an SOA, software components can be exposed as services on the network and can be reused frequently for different applications and purposes. Developing new applications in an SOA can be a matter of mix-and-match: Decide on the application needed, find out the existing components that can help build that application, glue them all together and you're done.

In this first part of a two-part column, I'll take a look at IBM's new SOA announcement. In part 2, I'll take a look at what BEA is offering.

Understanding SOMA
IBM has gotten the SOA religion early, and for quite some time has been offering consulting services and tools to help companies build SOAs.

Recently, IBM unveiled a new SOA approach called service-oriented modeling and architecture (SOMA). IBM Global Services offers SOMA in its consulting services to more quickly and effectively help companies build and deploy SOAs.

SOMA aligns a company's business needs with its IT infrastructure, said Michael Liebow, vice president of Web services for IBM Global Services.

Too often, the two are separate from one another, and the business side of an enterprise doesn't necessarily communicate with the IT side of the business. The result is a business disconnect in which resources and money may be spent on parts of the business that are not growing or bringing in significant revenue, while growth opportunities go starving for resources.

SOMA, Liebow said, provides a structured, consistent way to align the business and IT sides of the house using an SOA.

"We look at the total business," he explained. "We break it out by what's strategic and what's tactical. We break down an enterprise into key operating components, and each of those components includes people, investments, IT resources and more."

Called component business modeling, this process is designed to provide a framework for the SOA. "[It will show] which areas of the business aren't giving you value and may be running you dry with expenses, and are taking away money and resources from areas that need investments and do generate money," he said.

Taking the next step
Component business modeling is only a starting point, though, not an end point. The key to SOMA is to be able to build an SOA based on what's found during the modeling process, Liebow said.

"We do the work of bridging from the business design to designing an underlying architecture," he said. "We discovered a discipline for doing that, and so we've formalized the approach into a multi-step approach."

The first step is to identify the sets of services that are inherent in each business component. This need not be overly complex. In a rental car business, for example, it's how you rent a car to someone. If you sell a product, it's the way in which you distribute the product. So in the first step, all services are defined for each business component.

Next, each individual component is "decomposed" into subroutines, which are essentially all the steps required to deliver the service. In other words, what are the business goals? For example, in the car rental business, look at the points that customers interact with the actual rental process, and see where extra revenue may be gained at that point.

Finally, each service is reconstituted based on improvements, and how the services are now aligned with IT. It's decided how the services will work, and how they will be built -- will they be custom applications or packaged applications?

Liebow said the key to all this is that IBM developed the SOMA process based on its real-world experience with customers, and then it set that process "in stone" as a practice and discipline.

He added that SOMA is just one more step in IBM's evolving SOA strategy, and that IBM will add new SOA-specific services and products, based on customer demand.

Liebow noted that the industries furthest along in using SOAs are telecommunications; financial services, particularly banking and insurance; retail; and government, respectively.

Why those industries? When there are common standards and frameworks within an industry, there's already a head start on a model, and so those industries -- like telecommunications -- will be furthest along.

IBM isn't the only company making a big SOA pitch, of course. Others, notably BEA, are making them as well, and I'll look at BEA's recent announcement in my next column.

Continues in Part Two


Expert Daniel Foody answers your SOA questions.

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 preston@gralla.com.

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