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IBM Global Services unveils SOA Management Practice

There's no trend in enterprise computing with more potential to achieve an actual paradigm shift than the advent of service-oriented architectures (SOA). The idea of making IT functionality available as discoverable services on a network allows for so much more flexibility than traditional system architectures that many companies are now well into the design phase of an SOA.

"Leading IT shops have basically proved that the technology can work," Forrester analyst John Rymer says. "SOA is the hottest architectural topic among Forrester's clients.”

Now he sees IT shops trying to figure out the next step.

Rymer says this leads to many questions: “What they are trying to do is put in place the architectures that will allow them to employ SOAs very broadly for a range of applications. They are into a period of trying to figure out what a good service is. How do we design a good service? How do we ensure security across a range of applications? How do we ensure reliability? And then there are all kinds of business policy questions: If I expose some of my data or transactions through a Web service, how am I going to ensure that I meet the users’ expectations? How am I going to put in place the quality of service that makes sure that it doesn’t go down?"

In other words, SOAs have arrived, but building and managing them is still a challenge for most organizations.

That's a challenge IBM Global Services is taking on with a newly created practice aimed at helping enterprises migrate to service-oriented architectures. Unveiled this week, Big Blue's new SOA Management Practice will seek to help customers with Web services management capabilities as they scale to enterprise-wide SOAs.

Essentially, SOAs make it possible to think about software as hunks of functionality. As technology and standards evolve (most notably Web services) SOA will increasingly provide enterprises with a means for sharing programs and data with different divisions within the company, as well as external partners, suppliers, and customers.

IBM's new SOA management offerings include: support for existing Web services security specifications and new specs as they become available; management of service capacity thresholds, faults, and errors; monitoring of service throughput and capacity; management and monitoring of transactions, business processes, and discrete functions within a business process; an integration broker, which supports the management of things like service prioritization, failover, load balancing, and dynamic routing; and the ability to manage Web services as part of a discovery and integration capability called cataloging.

The practice will also offer development tools for Web service management agent and client, SDKs to extend functions and to integration with external systems, and support of disparate programming models (e.g. J2EE and .NET).

SOAs have become something of a cornerstone of IBM’s two-year-old "on-demand" computing initiative. The Armonk, NY-based company has characterized its focus on SOAs as “an extension of existing strategies to help customers take advantage of IBM innovation and standards-based technologies to drive down costs, create new opportunities for growth and transform to on demand businesses.”

IBM’s on-demand strategy heavily leverages Web services standards, which is where SOAs come in. In an SOA world, IBM marketing director Bob Sutor told eADT, business processes are exchanged as interchangeable tasks or services. For example, a bank can use the same computing services infrastructure to handle account transfer requests, whether they are coming from a teller, an ATM, or a Web application, avoiding the need for multiple applications.

“Simply put, we see [SOAs] as the best way to allow enterprises to connect things that aren’t normally connected,” Sutor said.

Other large vendors are betting big on SOAs. BEA, Microsoft, and Oracle all have waded into the SOA pool with their own products and services.

According to Yankee Group, 75% of companies plan to invest in the technology and staffing necessary to enable an SOA in the next 12 months. Gartner expects that a services orientation will be the dominant development criteria for more than 80% of new application projects by 2009

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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