SOA - spawning a services market

Need help building your service-oriented architecture? Vendors stand ready with a slew of service options.

Adopting a service-oriented architecture promises to transform rigid networks into flexible, agile application services delivery platforms that compile disparate IT components on the fly to meet business demands. The concept appeals to many - 87% of 100 CIOs recently polled by Goldman Sachs say they are using Web services now, and 54% plan to deploy infrastructure to support SOA by year-end. But many IT executives still have trouble identifying the practical steps needed to achieve an enterprise SOA. Vendors are more than willing to jump in and help out.

The catch is that SOA isn't easily packaged into new software license sales for vendors. SOA is more about changing the way IT delivers application services through architecture than getting a specific technology set in place. For instance, Web services technology and enterprise service bus (ESB) products could be part of an SOA, but companies using Web services and ESBs don't necessarily have an SOA. To make money in a growing yet still ambiguous market - the overall Web services market is expected to reach $21.6 billion by 2009, IDC says - vendors are adapting product-based sales pitches into services that offer to assess SOA readiness, govern SOA development and manage SOA implementations.

"The dirty little secret of SOA is that it doesn't require buying a lot of new software. SOA is architecture, and SOA is hard. It's not a one-off software project," says Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst with ZapThink.

The buzz comes from companies such as BEA Systems, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Siebel and Sun, which have spent the last year rolling out SOA services and establishing resource centers that are designed to help enterprises get on the path toward SOA. These vendors also provide technology components that could become part of a larger SOA such as application servers, middleware software, integration platforms, ESBs, Web services and application development tools.

The services option

For example, last spring IBM unveiled services for planning, designing, implementing and managing SOA. HP in June launched SOA consulting services and opened four SOA competency centers aimed at helping business customers with everything from envisioning their SOA to rolling out and running it. BEA in May designed SOA services for government and public sector companies, and began offering an online assessment tool for measuring an organization's plans against a given methodology. The tool, called BEA Service-Oriented Architecture Readiness Self-Assessment, reports on results and recommends pricing.

SOA services could involve consultants meeting on-site with technologists and business managers to determine exactly what the company wants out of an SOA and where to start based on the current application infrastructure architecture. SOA can be put to use on internal integration efforts, but ideally it's set up to span IT and application silos and make code available for reuse across the company.

According to ZapThink, 80% of money spent today on SOA initiatives is for professional services, not software, and Schmelzer says, "Spending should continue to go in that direction." Unlike with software purchases, services spending is expected and almost required with SOA, because development requires less new code and more reworking of existing applications. Yet when it comes to buying SOA services, IT managers have to be sure they are investing in SOA and process expertise and not paying the vendor to get its software up and running. The challenge for IT managers will be to determine which vendors have the lion's share of expertise when it comes to designing architecture and establishing processes to support an SOA going forward.

"Right now the biggest gotcha with SOA is market confusion and lack of understanding," says Teresa Jones, a senior research analyst at Butler Group. "ESB and Web services vendors could promise to deliver SOA and fail, because their technology is just one facilitator to SOA. Wrapping an application up as a Web service doesn't necessarily make it reusable."

Instead, companies need help breaking down their applications and transactions into the right services that can then be put together in a different way to allow more flexible use of existing code. The drivers for SOA today are developing innovative, revenue-generating applications in-house and perhaps adding new elements to take advantage of the architecture, but it's not a revamping that will deliver cost savings and efficiencies unless the business applications are a good fit for SOA, Jones says.

4 questions to ask vendors

  • How much experience do you have implementing SOA? After you hear the product pitch, request client references similar to your situation to make sure the vendor can deliver SOA beyond implementing its specific product set.
  • Are you certified in implementing best-practice processes? Most of SOA is architecture and processes, not technology. Vendors must know more than how to install integration middleware or an enterprise service bus.
  • How are you going to equip me to maintain my SOA going forward? Whether it be engineering, training or process certification, IT shops will need tools to evolve, maintain and manage their SOA. An SOA is not a one-off project that a vendor can wrap up in a consulting engagement.
  • What work are you doing with standards? SOA depends upon disparate components integrating on the fly. While vendor-specific wares and integration platforms can help, the ultimate goal is for interoperability via standards.

4 questions to ask yourself

  • Is SOA right for my organization? A readiness assessment questionnaire available online from vendors could help determine at what stage your organization is, and if you are ready to take the leap to adopt SOA.
  • Do I have a network architect on staff? An SOA environment is designed for flexibility and reuse in unpredictable conditions. Many networks today are built for predictability. A services group could help your staff design the SOA if there isn’t an in-house architect.
  • Can I establish SOA governance policies across IT silos? SOA will not work unless all departments in IT follow the core processes that the company establishes around SOA. A service provider can help establish policies across departments.
  • Is there a business case for SOA? A full-blown SOA is a long-term commitment to a new computing platform. Consider your business model to determine whether the potential benefits of SOA will outweigh the costs and commitment. Vendors could provide case studies to demonstrate how SOA works for others in your vertical industry.

"The real issue is organizational change, regardless of products and technology. SOA requires processes and policies and a shift in how IT is delivered. A good vendor can help an organization get on the path toward that change," ZapThink's Schmelzer says. IBM and HP could be good places to start looking for SOA best practice and process expertise with SOA. Each has clearly separate and defined professional services groups; that is, the revenue from professional services engagements isn't always directly related to a software sale.

SOA services in action

Consider Jaime Sguerra, who as chief architect and senior business systems officer at Guardian Life Insurance, established a new way of using applications across the IT infrastructure. The goals were to connect all legacy and client-server systems to the distributed world and to establish an enterprise architecture that would enable services reuse. IBM helped retool certain applications, while in-house staff at the New York firm handled others, he says.

"For CRM, we needed this to be very efficient in terms of performance. We wanted subsecond response times," he says. IBM helped tune the application, and he worked to ensure business buy-in. "A lot of coordination work [is required] to get everyone from developers to the mainframe staff to the CRM group to buy into the SOA. Otherwise, adoption and governance become a challenge," he says.

Regardless of the vendor, SOA initiatives take incredible discipline. Says Sguerra: "You can't leave any room for people to have the option to build their own applications and not leverage what has already been built."

Learn more about this topic

Web services take off


Early adopters: SOA worth the effort


IBM exec extols future of SOA


You in an SOA world


SOA is worth network redesign


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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.