SOA Trends Indicated in IBM Survey

Attendees at IBM's Impact 2007 event held in May had some interesting opinions on their companies' plans for service-oriented architectures (SOAs). IBM commissioned the Link Group, a marketing research firm, to conduct the survey. The exact number of respondents wasn't disclosed in an IBM press release describing the survey's findings.

The survey asked why companies would need an SOA. A majority (75 percent) of respondents said that meeting new business goals was the "primary reason for implementing SOA." The remainder (25 percent) thought of SOA as a means of "fixing existing business problems."

Budgets for SOA projects were also highlighted in the survey. Overall IT spending on SOA was estimated at "between 10 and 30 percent" by 40 percent of respondents. About half (53 percent) of respondents said that their 2007 SOA budgets had risen between "10 percent and 20 percent" compared with last year.

One dark cloud on the horizon was the absence of SOA skills. Half of the respondents said that they have less 25 percent of the knowledge needed to meet their company's long-term goals using SOA. Still, 60 percent of respondents said that existing IT staff were being trained to increase their SOA skills, and the training was happening this year. The majority (68 percent) gave the traditional response that SOA knowledge requires "a combination of business and IT skills."

I asked Paul Brunet, IBM's director of service oriented architecture, a few questions of my own about SOA.

Q: How do you distinguish SOA and Web services?
A: From our perspective, SOA is an architectural approach, so, it's not like you go out and buy a product to go implement SOA. Web services are a set of technology standards that are implemented to ensure better integration, whether it be internally, or more formally externally with your trading partners, customers and the like. SOA has been around longer than even Web services in the WS spec.

Q: How many businesses have a "real SOA" that they are using?
A: We've got 4,500 customers who are utilizing our SOA technologies today. Not to say that all of them have utilized all of the inherent SOA capabilities. We had [at Impact 2007] 104 customer speakers throughout the various sessions. That's 104 out of about 400 to 500 sessions, so about 25 percent of our sessions had customers actually talking about their [SOA] implementations.

Q: What is the percent of reuse in an SOA?
A: I would probably tell you that anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of what customers are doing is reuse. We use "reuse" broadly. Reuse comes in three different flavors. One is reuse of an existing application [by creating a service]. [Another is that] I create a service and then reuse that service in multiple ways. And the last thing is that I've got technologies that I've invested in and I want to figure out a way of reusing those technologies.

Q: Does it take a long time to see cost reductions by reuse?
A: I don't think so. We have a customer out of Germany called Grohe. They are a billion-dollar manufacturer of faucets. They were doing an upgrade to an SAP application and trying to get a number of custom applications to tie in with some of their downstream channel partners. They were able to decrease their integration time by up to 84 percent from two to four weeks from what initially was six months. And I think that's pretty substantial. There are a lot of instances like that. The initial project has to pay for itself, [but] no one's going to go out and make an investment with the expectation that it's going to pay for itself in 18 months or 24 months down the pipe. And I think that's implicit in the survey, where we see that the budgets are going up. Organizations wouldn't be increasing their budgets if they weren't able to see a return. I really think it's past that early stage -- we're got a lot of customers who are finding value [in SOA].

Q: Are there some legacy technologies that can't work with an SOA?
A: You need to be sure you have a WSDL [Web Services Description Language] interface on the back end to accommodate some of those things. And there may be a few times when it might be too costly to maintain that service where it is -- it's not scalable. And especially if I want to polish a service and make it more available to the broader community -- whether it's my business unit or multiple business units or even then externally, maybe it's because of security and management issues or concerns that I can't do it where it is -- then maybe I might consider rewriting it.

Q: Do you need an enterprise service bus (ESB) to do an SOA?
A: It depends. From our viewpoint, there are different ways for the customer to do SOA. The first way is to get started by creating services. An initial premise is, "What's the right way of creating a service so that it can be properly reused?" Most business processes need some level of connectivity, and to get that level of connectivity inside of an SOA, you need an ESB or some other integration technology, such as IBM's WebSphere message broker, which we describe as an advanced ESB. You really want to marry your proprietary ways of connection with your more modern ways of connection. In order to do that, in some ways you need an ESB, but an ESB is open to interpretation -- whether it's a product or a scenario or situation that you're going to implement in executing it.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.