IT and business executives frequently ask us about getting started with SOA. They are unsure about the best way to begin. Which project is the right place to start? Which has the greatest likelihood of success and which will have the greatest visibility at the business management level? Most of them recognize that even a basic first pass at SOA could deliver rich dividends in the reuse of IT assets and in flexibility improvements. But taking the first step is not so easy.
Among the operational and technical issues that companies need to consider on their first SOA project is “which specific SOA components do we need?” Which ESB should we use? Which registry should we implement? What should we build and what should we buy? There are critical questions about how to establish standards for building a modular architecture, how to codify business processes, and how to establish business governance capabilities.
Typically IT departments are immersed in the day-to-day tasks of maintaining the existing infrastructure and applications. The transition to SOA requires IT management to take a step back and rethink the fundamental approach to application building and management. SOA requires IT to move towards a more holistic business perspective and focus on the reuse of both business process and corporate data. It is not an easy cultural transition.
Technically, we usually recommend newcomers to SOA to firm up on a compatible stack of SOA components. For that reason we were impressed by IBM’s recent decision to package its SOA infrastructure components on the p Series platform and also by the way that it chose to do that. IBM’s SOA package includes WebSphere, Tivoli and IBM information management software. However, IBM has taken into account that the journey to SOA can start in a variety of ways, so it will be providing a variety of packages that correspond to distinct points of departure.
The initial announcement covers five packaged offerings as listed below, with example usages:
• System p Configuration for SOA Entry Point – Process. Say an electric utility’s priority is to cut costs and deliver a better service. The company’s initial focus will be on developing a more efficient business process. It begins its SOA implementation by integrating several previously disconnected systems including outage management, geographic information, and field management systems.
• System p Configuration for SOA Entry Point – People. A financial institution’s number one goal in developing a SOA platform is to improve developer productivity. It begins its SOA implementation by developing a portal framework that will bring critical information about the business into one place. This will allow the development team to communicate more effectively and share components across multiple applications.
• System p Configuration for SOA Entry Point – Information. An insurance company with subsidiaries spanning many geographical boundaries wants to add new distribution channels quickly. The company’s top priority for its SOA implementation is to provide subsidiaries and new channel partners with on-demand access to more consistent, reliable, and accurate information about the business.
• System p Configuration for SOA Entry Point – Connectivity. A city government steps into SOA by establishing an Enterprise Service Bus as the platform on which to build business services. The goal is to develop a greater understanding of the business process and encourage IT developers and the business to speak the same language. The top priority for their SOA implementation will be to increase the efficiency and reuse of systems, processes, and applications throughout the city.
• System p Configuration for SOA Entry Point – Reuse. A financial institution wants to promote sharing and reuse across multiple applications. The SOA implementation will begin with a focus on modeling the business process to create more consistent definitions of terms across various lines of business. This will allow business and IT to create business services that can be reused across throughout the business.
Each configuration IBM offers will include a reference architecture, guides and supporting information to ensure that customers will have a smooth installation and setup. IBM will most likely promote these packaged offerings in their SOA catalogue, a rapidly growing online resource for customers and IBM partners and resellers of many different products and services for SOA.
One of the roles of the IBM SOA Catalogue is to act as a source of information for customers who want to find out about the tools, technology, and capabilities of SOA. It is also intended to be a directory that enables customers to find system integrators or consultants to help them get started. A customer can get the education required to begin their SOA initiative; they can get the hardware and software to get started and find IBM consultants or business partners to help with the implementation.
IBM’s SOA packaging on the p Series reminds us of the way that IBM packaged its hugely successful System 38, which later became known as the AS/400 and now continues as the iSeries. The AS/400 came with its own advanced development environment (based on RPG3) and underlying relational data organization embedded within the file system. It also had embedded and easy to use help facilities. The AS/400 was a packaged environment rather than a minicomputer and that drove its success.
It is clear to us that a similar packaged environment could be a very safe and successful way to get into SOA. Some adopters of SOA customers are complaining that there are too many moving parts to a SOA implementation and they are looking for more streamlined approaches. We don’t believe that there is any way of eliminating all of the complexity of SOA. There are cultural challenges and there are integration challenges and there are technical challenges – and they will inevitably have to be faced as a SOA implementation progresses. However, there is likely to be an advantage in having a starter pack, like those IBM is offering, that have already been tested in action and embody the lesson learned from early SOA engagements.