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Service-Oriented Architecture

SOA (short for Service-Oriented Architecture) is one of the latest buzzwords in the IT community. The keyword in SOA is integration: applications from different players need to collaborate behind the scene in order to fulfill a precise business mission (think on-line shopping). But on-line shopping is not exactly a novel concept anymore. That said, neither is SOA. Why then, do we hear now so much about SOA - this “perfect storm” - as IBM Executive Architect, Ulrich Herrmann, calls it? SOA is not a product of some IT vendor, or a particular technology. SOA is a new way of building business systems, based on today's technologicaladvances in software and hardware. SOA's roots can be traced at least a few years back, to IBM's "e-business on-demand" concept and its vision of delivering applications that are interconnected, scalable, available, resilient and flexible. *This concept, officially launched by IBM with some fanfare and billions in investments in October 2002, has taken ground ever since. Currently, IBM is the leader in SOA products and services, with 44% of the market and investments of $1 billion a year. BEA is another major player in this arena. Oracle and Microsoft adapt their product strategies to embrace SOA, as do all other major IT firms. The “Lego Approach” A pertinent analogy for SOA is Lego, the popular building blocks play set. Rather than build separate, custom applications for each department or enterprise (as was done in the past) today’s businesses, operating in an interconnected world “flattened” by the Internet, need standard blocks of functionality that fit with each other and can be easily integrated and configured. The “Lego approach” is what IBM does – developing independent but interoperable pieces of software, while others (Microsoft) prefer to approach SOA with a suite of products able to interconnect with third party applications. The IT industry has seen in the past claims of interoperability, reusability, flexibility and independence from hardware and operating systems. But today there are a number of technical, business and societal factors that concur to stir this “perfect storm”: a) The Web has matured and so have technologies such as: XML (EXtensible Markup Language), WSDL (Web Services Description Language), UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). In a nutshell, XML tags data, SOAP transfers the data, WSDL describes the services available, and UDDI lists what services are available. b) Open standards such as Web services (applications sharing business logic, data and processes through a programmatic interface over the Internet, without the involvement of users) are now widely adopted. The major IT companies have understood that in the field of open standards, competition is counter-productive and that upholding the principle of interoperability is strategically more important than advancing proprietary agendas. c) Competition in a global world, as well as sweeping regulations such as SOX in North America and the unified currency in Europe have pushed the need for a new brand of thinking and building IT applications. d) Collaboration and partnerships among companies, governments, organizations and individuals have become the true force of innovation in today’s society. Some firms have come to consider collaboration more important than Research and Development when it comes to innovation. Innovation is crucial to the survival of companies today, because it is the primary source of growth. While it is not cheap to become a SOA-based operation, the entry points in SOA are many: a business may decide to begin revamping their information processes, people or infrastructure (connectivity). But is SOA some sort of silver bullet or the “enterprise Swiss army knife”, as a source aptly put it? As some technology executives reported to the IT press, there are vendors who oversell SOA. SOA won’t reap its potential unless the business side takes the lead in terms of defining the business goal to be achieved. This is what Scott Metzger, CIO of TrueCredit, a marketer of on-line credit reports had to say: "If you as a leader or manager allow a vendor sales group to drive how you're going to ultimately manage your business, that's going to be fraught with peril."