Building Enterprise Apps: It Takes an SOA

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2006-02-12

Building Enterprise Apps: It Takes an SOA

Want to know what the software developer of the future will look like? Find a bricklayer.

Jeff Barr, a Web services evangelist at Amazon. com, says as technologies converge—including the alphabet soup that is AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), XML and SOA (service-oriented architecture)—software architects need to change their ways of operating.

"The corporate software architect of the future may have a function more akin to a plumber or a bricklayer than to a developer," said Barr in Seattle. "To keep his dignity intact, lets call him an assembler of components."

What Barr is getting at is the early stages of a shift in how enterprise software could be developed. For instance, Barr is helping turn small pieces of code into Web services governing e-commerce transactions that can be reused across the company.

Analysts said this shift will allow for converged services where enterprises can provide their technology users and customers with a variety of loosely coupled services using Web 2.0 tools—a term referring to using the Web as a platform for developing applications—and AJAX, a style of development that creates Web-based applications with the performance of desktop software.

These services will be tied together with an underlying SOA, an architectural style that enables Web services to communicate with each other.

"I think the big story here is the convergence of Web 2.0 front ends with Web services-enabled back ends," said Eric Newcomer, chief technology officer of Iona Technologies, which markets SOA technology and leads the Eclipse Foundations SOA Tools Platform Project.

"We are seeing a lot of innovation in the programmable Web, where technologies mainly concerned with user interaction and commodity-level services are gaining some traction," said Newcomer, in Waltham, Mass.

The software developers toolbox will include AJAX and Macromedias Flash and its ability to provide RIAs (rich Internet applications). Microsoft, for its part, put its tools on parade last month at VSLive, in San Francisco. The software maker showcased its upcoming "Atlas" AJAX development tool. Microsoft also demonstrated its support for using the Web as a development platform, with its MSN Search API, MSN Messenger platform and Visual Studio 2005, among other technologies.

Microsofts John deVadoss talked up Web 2.0 and SOA at VSLive. Click here to read more.

Newcomer acknowledges that corporate adoption of these technologies isnt widespread yet, but there are more than a few companies dabbling in them.

Businesses go experimental

When TrueCredit needed to put a more interactive face on one of its SOA-based applications, the company looked to Web 2.0 technology to provide its users with a richer, more desktop-like experience.

Scott Metzger, CTO at the San Luis Obispo, Calif., credit services company, said TrueCredit chose the Flash environment to provide RIA functionality to a credit underwriting analysis tool called KnowYourLoanRate.

TrueCredits SOA infrastructure is built on BEA Systems WebLogic Integration and WebLogic Server. Metzger said the company is considering using the AJAX model for some of its services, "but we dont have any plans to adopt it across the board," because the rigorous regression testing required for presenting credit data "represents some challenges."

Does AJAX pose a security risk? Click here to read more.

Michael Smith, general manager of operations at, said the company is "using AJAX in certain lists we present on our site." Forbes used AJAX to develop a search-and-sort function for its Web site.

"We found that with AJAX we could offer many more types of search-and-sort operations, and the speed is very compelling," said Smith, in New York.

Moreover, is looking to employ AJAX in other applications such as streaming quotes, he said.

Barr said the goal of Amazon.coms Web 2.0 efforts is to give customers "more control of what they see, how they see it, how they interact with it and how they can provide feedback on what they see."

Next Page: Making SOA and Web 2.0 pay off.

Making SOA and Web

2.0 Pay Off">

Meanwhile, "the buzz will likely not center on SOA specifically, but SOA will necessarily be in the background making the convergence work," said Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with Waltham-based ZapThink.

"In order for companies to realize value thats more than simply the next version of AOL or MSN with a smattering of disconnected services or the next version of a desktop-installed enterprise print service app, companies must leverage the power that SOA offers in order to make true service convergence—in all its definitions of the word—a reality," Schmelzer said.

Getting an SOA return

Breaking it down to business, Ruchir Rodrigues, executive director of strategic systems and development at Verizon, said SOA can drive revenue. Verizons SOA environment has supported 1.5 billion transactions in two years, Rodrigues said.

"We have about 7,000 developers in the United States and about 2,500 in India," said Rodrigues, in New York. "We do 8.5 million transactions per day." In addition, Verizons SOA-based system has more than 556 unique services and has saved $20 million in two years, he said.

Read an interview here with the leaders of two top companies in the SOA space.

"We knew there was a ton of money to be saved in bringing the number of duplicate services down," Rodrigues said. "You can make money. You can package services differently and actually sell different configurations and make more money."

Stuart Sackman, senior vice president of product strategy for Automatic Data Processings Employer Services Group, said SOA has reduced the number of applications at the company. Applications are broken down into components and shared across the Roseland, N.J., company.

"Within the company we call it [SOA] integration and reuse, and we have the business tied to it," said James Barry, vice president of application development, payroll front end and human resources application development at ADP.

"For our clients, SOA means a common set of services from ADP. The SOA allows us to ship components in ways that line up better with how our customers do their work. For the IT team, SOA means a common set of plumbing, connection between systems and reuse of code," he said.

Barry said some of the soft benefits of SOA include building applications with less code, smaller development teams that can concentrate on core services, the ability to extend the enterprise and easier training. Meanwhile, hard benefits include savings; more sales; extra products; and a smaller, shared infrastructure, he said.

"Were driving toward all our operations using SOA," Barry said. "SOA is the underlying architecture for a payroll application ADP provides for benefits enrollment and 401(k) services. Ive got 20,000 companies using it and 4.5 million to 5 million users, and through the self-service components, well have over 40 million [users] in a couple of years."

Reusing applications is a common benefit of using Web services, said Jaime Sguerra, CTO at The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, based in New York.

"We have achieved a level of reusability we didnt have before. The impact has been 32 percent actual savings in the first 12 applications. Were building a lot more applications with a lot better quality," Sguerra said.

Guardian currently has about 70 services and is working on delivering 30 more, he said.

Building the toolbox

Given the early enthusiasm for Web 2.0 and Web services technology, its no surprise that vendors are lining up to pitch their wares.

A slew of vendors provide offerings in the Web services and SOA space. The big players include IBM, with its WebSphere solutions; BEA, with its WebLogic solutions; and Microsoft, with its Web Services Enhancements, BizTalk Server and other components.

Microsoft also is betting on SOA and Web services with its upcoming WCF (Windows Communication Foundation), a pillar of Windows Vista also known as "Indigo." Sun Microsystems is pushing its Java Business Integration platform. The emerging SCA (Service Component Architecture) is a key Java-based SOA standard.

Other companies supporting SOA include TIBCO Software, WebMethods, Sonic Software, Cape Clear Software and a host of companies providing governance and other solutions.

In addition to RIA technology such as Flash and AJAX, Web 2.0 technologies include RSS, lightweight development frameworks such as Ruby on Rails, REST (Representational State Transfer), and wikis, said John deVadoss, director of architecture strategy at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash.

To read an interview with the creator of Ruby on Rails, click here.

According to deVadoss, Microsoft is planning to help enterprises bridge the worlds of Web 2.0 and SOA. He said technologies such as AJAX and software as a service help drive the need to bridge the two worlds. "AJAX is a reflection of the browser applications of today being inadequate," deVadoss said. "AJAX tells us we really have to focus more on the user."

Companies offering AJAX solutions include Microsoft with its Atlas tool and Sun with its Java Studio Creator 2. IBM recently formed the AJAX Toolkit Framework Project in Eclipse, as well as an open-source effort known as Open AJAX. Other AJAX supporters include Laszlo Systems, Xamlon, JackBe, Exadel, Backbase, Genuitec, ClearNova and Software AG.

Ultimately these tools will allow developers to create small applications shared across the enterprise. As Barr explained, developers "will have a toolbox of very high-level components that they will be able to knit together using a modicum of code."

In other words, developers will be high-tech plumbers, bricklayers and component assemblers.

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