SOA Still Gaining Momentum

Opinion: Enterprise initiatives and vendor interop efforts continue to tell a strong story.

Ill be in Napa this week to brief attendees at the Ziff Davis CIO Summit on the subject of service-oriented architecture as a strategy for "future-proof" IT. As often happens, the title for the talk was on the agenda before my name got attached to it: As readers of this letter know, I side with Tom Peters on the issue of treating the future and its chaotic leading edge as an opportunity to be exploited, not an obstacle to be overcome, so I might have chosen "future-ready" rather than "future-proof" as the IT strategy attribute to pursue.

Be that as it may, events have graciously conspired to give me plenty of new material that may come as news to even the seasoned CIO attendees at that event. Its not news that SOA offers outstanding benefits, but I hope to provide some useful insights on how not to pursue it.

Its important, for example, to recognize when a "service bus" is growing vertically up and down each of several application stacks, rather than being grown horizontally across the enterprise. This point was made by Frank Martinez, executive VP at SOA Software, when we spoke last month; it deserves to be refreshed in light of Microsofts announcement late last week of the rebranding of its developer technology portfolio. Addressing demand-side concerns about preserving horizontal SOA flexibility are the members of SOA Link, a vendor interoperability group that I confess had escaped my notice until Mindreef sent me a note this morning about their new membership in that organization.

Even if totally successful in achieving a 100 percent vendor-neutral SOA environment, organizations will still find (as Ill emphasize in Napa) that there are certainly offsetting costs to SOAs benefits. Much as the move to object-oriented languages made it harder to achieve memory locality for simple instruction retrieval, so does the move to SOA enlarge the working sets of data and code in large-scale enterprise systems. One example of that challenge can be found at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, whose 950 properties do business under various well-known brands such as Westin and Sheraton: The company is using in-memory data management tools for clustered Java applications from Tangosol, whose flagship product goes by the name of Coherence, to maintain system performance as Starwood merges its many legacy systems for online booking into a unified service-based grid.

Ultimately, what matters are not so much the technical measures such as data throughput optimization, but the customer satisfaction measures such as fraction of successful transaction completion. Measuring that end-to-end performance of applications in the wild is the stock in trade of TeaLeaf Technology, winner of this years eWEEK Excellence Award in the signal category of E-Business Foundations: a choice that not only highlights the product, but also shines our spotlight on that particular area of infrastructure management as deserving of management attention in the coming year. Youll find more about this years Excellence winners and finalists in a special report on June 19.

Another cost of the move to SOA is the potential bloat of network traffic under the burden of verbose XML data streams, a problem being attacked by Reactivity with its technology for slashing the burden of XML-related processing on general-purpose servers—increasing the fraction of server capacity thats actually available for running business logic, rather than executing XML and other plumbing code, from on the order of 10 percent to something much closer to 95 percent or more. One of the key distinctions between SOA as a mere modularity scheme and SOA as a genuine open-air market of services is the ease of auto-discovery of available resources as they enter and leave the scope of a service requester: Reactivity announced today some major improvements to its auto-discovery technology.

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