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Will the promises of Web services ever be realized?, part 2

Within the last several weeks, both IBM and BEA Systems have announced major SOA initiatives. In the second part of a two-part colum, Ill take a look at what BEA is offering.

Continued from Part One

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) has moved from beyond the buzz stage to the deployment stage, and there's no better sign of that than the recent major SOA initiatives from IBM and BEA Systems.

In my last column, I examined IBM's SOA strategy and announcement. This time around I'll take a look at what BEA is up to.

BEA's basic pitch
BEA recently expanded its worldwide SOA practice, and to a certain extent, BEA positions itself as the anti-IBM when it comes to its Web services consulting service. Said Bruce Graham, BEA's vice president of worldwide professional services, who was recently appointed head of the practice: "We don't come in with large army of consultants when a company asks for help. Instead, we use a smaller top-tier group of architects."

This sounds a bit like hype, of course, but Graham emphasizes that it actually represents a different outlook on how BEA's consulting service works. The smaller number of consultants involved in an engagement reflects BEA's attitude toward migration to SOAs. Rather than viewing building SOA as a large do-it-all project, Graham said for most companies, a slower, more evolutionary approach is much better.

"Sometimes a client comes to us and just wants some basic exploratory information, and we can be there for two days or a week to help with that," he said. BEA will also do two-week, more in-depth consulting, as well as even lengthier deployments. But Graham said as a general rule, most companies are not willing to bet the farm on SOAs, and instead take a more gradual approach to deployment.

"I haven't seen a company yet that has bet its business on building an SOA," he said. "It's a much more evolutionary process, it's not like companies making hundred-billion dollar bets on SAP like they were doing during the 1990s."

As a result, companies tend to start with smaller discrete projects that can benefit from an SOA and then build from there, according to Graham.

The six-step program
At the heart of the BEA approach is its breaking up an SOA into six "domains," as BEA calls them. Each of these domains represents an important component of an SOA.

Companies are typically more advanced in some of these domains and less advanced in others. By examining the domains separately, BEA claims that it can more accurately assess the state of readiness of a company to deploy an SOA, and then more easily help launch one. The six domains include:

  • Business process and strategy This measures the potential impact of an SOA on a company's long-term strategy, as well as its near-term initiatives. It also details the problems that the SOA can solve.
  • Reference architecture This assesses the overall services layers of a company, and looks as how they can interoperate. It covers issues such as manageability, availability and scalability.
  • Build blocks This takes a closer look at a company's architecture, including shared applications and data services.
  • Projects and applications This identifies specific applications that can be service-enabled, and looks at how existing IT architecture can be used as a starting point for the SOA.
  • Costs and benefits This measures the expenses required to build an SOA project and the potential advantages gained by it.
  • Organization and governance This reviews IT roles and responsibilities within a company, and makes sure that they are able to adhere to an approach in which services can be reused.

A company doesn't have to actually pay BEA to get a basic rundown on how it measures up in these six domains. BEA offers a free tool, the BEA SOA Readiness Self-Assessment Tool, on the Internet where companies can assess themselves.

Bottom line benefits
All this may sound rather abstract, but Graham said the benefits of SOAs are concrete and very real. For example, he said, BEA was able to eliminate over 200 legacy applications for one $10 billion company, resulting in enormous cost savings and increased efficiency.

Graham said most companies recognize the benefits of SOAs, but don't feel capable of building one themselves. He said the BEA SOA Readiness Self-Assessment Tool shows that of over 700 companies taking the survey, companies rated themselves at being below 50% proficient in each of the six domains that BEA identified -- but they rated their need for SOA as very high.

Clearly, that means that there's a large pent-up demand for SOA consulting services. BEA and IBM both hope that they can capture the growing market. It's still too soon to know whether one or both will succeed, but given the combined reach of both companies, expect that one might be knocking on your door asking if you need help.


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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