Turning up the tempo

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2004-10-18 Print this article Print

The SOA paradigm would not have gained such overwhelming momentum if it were only a new approach to application integration—even if it did provide improved developer productivity. What makes SOAs a tectonic shift of the IT landscape are the pressures of the modern enterprise IT environment, with its demand for ROI (return on investment) on time scales of weeks or months rather than quarters or years.

Enterprise buyers increasingly realize that they cant afford to squeeze the maximum possible raw-performance-per-unit cost from core IT components. The added bang they can get from their bucks is just too small compared with the cost of the time thats needed to do so, especially since theyll pay twice: once to build an excessively tuned system today and a second time to overcome the resulting rigidity when future events demand adaptation.

"I ask people, What do you want to accomplish businesswise?" said IBM Emerging Technologies Vice President Rod Smith in a conversation with eWEEK Labs this summer. "They tell me, Ive got a supply chain; Ive got business partners —I want them to have access to my billing and other systems, and I want it to happen in 30 days. People talk about business performance before they talk about application performance, so Ive laid down a challenge to our folks to reduce the integration time down to a matter of hours."

Shorter ROI time frames are made still more challenging by the churning of mergers and acquisitions, which make a mockery of any attempt to build homogeneous architectures. The IT architect is constantly presented with new process implementations that demand prompt and effective integration but come from someone elses playbook. An SOAs loose coupling and freedom to repurpose XML-formatted data will pay off in such situations.

The action on the field

To get a more visceral feel for what SOAs bring to the IT game, imagine playing in the National Football League at twice the usual speed. It would be faster, but it would still be a lumpy process with frequent stops for huddles and formations; it would still be a brittle process with only a few specific roles that could be assumed by any one player.

No matter how quickly the clock might run, no one would ever mistake the result for a game of soccer. Soccer is far more characterized by continuous flow, by dynamic change in players roles and even by a high degree of interoperability, with a small number of rules and a language-independent set of referees signals enabling games to take place with teams from many different countries.

Perhaps the most striking thing about SOAs is the way that enterprise demand for vendor cooperation has changed the terms of debate among IT suppliers. Past contests—for example, between the distributed object models of DCOM and CORBA—have been as vigorous but unproductive as a debate over the relative merits of American football versus British rugby. Buyer interest in SOAs has instead driven IT vendors to a level of agreement on fundamentals and nuanced competition on details, to a degree that has rarely, if ever, been seen for any length of time.

"Literally 100 percent of the worlds billion-dollar businesses have said that their future is an SOA," asserted Eric Pulier, CEO of Web services management and security company Digital Evolution Inc., in Santa Monica, Calif. "Not all are doing it yet, but all of them see that as where theyre going."

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.

Best Practices: Service-Oriented Architectures
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  • Separate business function from communication protocol to preserve loose coupling
  • Move incrementally with Web service pilot projects while wrapping legacy systems in service interfaces
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    Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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