Teams embrace all-inclusive SOA

Building a service-oriented architecture requires input from all areas of IT.

Application developers, data architects, security specialists and IT directors all have a stake in the design of application services and the enterprise framework across which they run. Network executives are no exception.

"SOA deployments are likely to be more distributed in nature than a typical, monolithic application, and with that comes potentially higher levels of network traffic, plus a greater dependency of the core application on the networking infrastructure," says Brent Carlson, vice president and co-founder of LogicLibrary.

SOA testing tools facilitate collaboration

"Since an SOA-based application may be touching quite a few different services, each deployed on separate servers and perhaps even in separate physical locations, to support a single business process, the network becomes a bigger piece of the application puzzle," Carlson says.

SOA technology drives a change in the types of network traffic, which can increase bandwidth consumption, says Dan Foody, a CTO at Progress Software. A message transmitted via HTTP and Simple Object Access Protocol - two text-based protocols - can be as much as 10 times larger than the same message transmitted in a binary protocol, he says. Doing network-level compression on WAN links could help with the bandwidth issue.

It's not always so simple, however. SOA is leading companies to do significantly more application-level security, and the effect of that can be overlooked, Foody says. "What this means to the network is that it can't understand any of the data - it can't do anything smart with the data flow," he says. "So things you might traditionally do in the network infrastructure are problems that can no longer be solved the same way. Whether it's compression, load balancing, failover or even intrusion detection, these have to be addressed in different ways."

Attitude adjustment

Solving problems such as these requires collaboration among network and systems professionals, application developers and data czars - IT groups traditionally distinguished by their own tools, methods and domains.

Enterprise architecture teams overseeing SOA initiatives ideally should be working with the network operations side of the house, but it doesn't always happen that way, says Jason Bloomberg, a senior analyst at ZapThink. "If the network and security people aren't included on that enterprise architecture team, that can be a challenge."

In an SOA, IT disciplines need to coexist, and in some instances, a device could be the catalyst for breaking down the IT barriers. For example, an XML appliance is a dedicated hardware device designed to offload XML-processing functions, and it includes application-programming capabilities for managing policies.

"Who's in charge of that? It goes in the data center, so it has to be managed like any other box. But it's an application-level device, so the application developers and enterprise architects want to be involved as well," Bloomberg says.

In addition to a unified IT front, SOA success requires solid business perspective, experts say. Instead of thinking about applications, packets and messages, IT needs to think about customers, orders and fulfillment, Foody says. "Even for the application teams, this is a hard transition - and arguably it's harder for the network teams that tend to be another step removed from the business."

Sometimes, SOA success means letting go. "We have to think about what it means to put greater power in the hands of business users, which is one of the key benefits of SOA," Bloomberg says, noting this can be scary to IT professionals.

It's essential to give up some control, however, adds Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst at ZapThink. "The network people don't own the network, and the database people don't own the databases: The business owns both of those things. It becomes counterproductive when issues of control over networks, applications, databases and infrastructure take precedence over meeting the needs of the business."

Network teams have to be proactive, Foody says. There's a tug of war going on between application and network teams about whether key technologies, such as security and content-based routing, are done in the network layer or the application layer.

"The tendency of the application teams is to assume the network won't provide any of this, so their natural inclination is to do it all themselves," he says. An SOA may not fail if application teams take on these functions, but neither will it reach its full potential in terms of scalability, manageability and flexibility, he adds. "It's up to the network teams to drive their own destiny and to decide whether they want to sit at the business table or be marginalized by the application teams."

A first step is acquiring business savvy. Find out more about what the company's goals are, how business success is measured and where the risks are, Foody suggests. "Armed with this knowledge, not only will the network teams be much better able to work arm in arm with the application teams, but they will be able to offer up solutions to the business that application teams aren't even thinking of."

Get involved early, Schmelzer adds. "Getting the network folks involved in the services definition process actually could facilitate the movement to an enterprise architecture and create a better sense of control and buy-in."

Over the long term, network managers also can eye opportunities to move into strategic SOA roles, if they want to. ZapThink is predicting an imminent shortage of service-oriented architects who have the requisite technical and people skills needed to help their companies transform their businesses.

Architects will be in the catbird seat for the next few years, and enterprises that have SOA-savvy personnel should encourage and protect them, because other organizations will be eyeing the talent, Schmelzer and Bloomberg say.

Foody says smart companies will look internally to find the rare people who can comprehend business and IT requirements and translate between the two. "You can rarely interview well to find this skill set, so these people usually come from within the organization," he says. "Since there is a shortage of people with this capability, the key is for an organization to spot talent and grow them into the role, and to leverage the ones an organization has as broadly as possible."

Learn more about this topic

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.