Microservices Matters

Apr 10 2008   5:09PM GMT

IBM showing off SOA’s impact

StorageSwiss George Crump Profile: StorageSwiss

Things Kate Pierson surely never thought she’d say during a concert when the B-52s were taking off 30 years ago: “Happy birthday WebSphere!”

Now, THAT is what I call a mashup.

Artists who debut high on the Billboard charts plugging your products is also what happens when a company pulls off a big show, which is what IBM has done at Impact 2008. It’s easy to be cynical about these sorts of events. In fact, I’m paid to be cynical about pretty much everything. It’s a job requirement. Yet it’s impossible not to notice all the users in attendance and presenting in the sessions. Anyone who doubts whether SOA is happening at the corporate level only needs to spend an afternoon here and it will quickly prove that SOA is not only happening, but it’s happening in a big way.

After four days I’m starting to wonder if there’s a company that isn’t pursuing service-orientation. One interesting observation from a senior IT exec with whom I had lunch the other day was that a lot of his developers and IT ops people probably don’t even know the company is heading down the SOA path because the higher ups don’t use the term. The company just happened to build a loosely coupled, modular order-to-cash process. Only the folks with an enterprise architectural view tossed around the SOA acronym. Everyone else was working on an order-to-cash overhaul.

By the way, this is how SOA dies — not with obsolescence, but with ubiquity.

The event has also generated a ton of coverage. Dana Gardner has a great recap of the first day highlights in his BriefingsDirect blog. In it he’s got a killer quote from WebSphere GM Tom Rosamilia:

“You can do BPM without SOA, but I wouldn’t recommend it,” says Rosamilia.

I’ll note here that SearchSOA.com did a special report on this very topic two years ago. Business process management has always been a good idea, but without service orientation it’s largely unimplementable. How you compose those processes and manage them is critical.

In his OnStrategies Perspectives blog, Tony Baer recaps his conversation with IBM software head honcho Steve Mills about whether SOA is getting boring and then talks about the parallels between SOA and enterprise databases.

There’s yet another parallel between SOA and the evolution of databases. Twenty years ago, there were debates over whether SQL databases could handle the load and deliver the performance of legacy databases or file systems. The answer was throwing Moore’s law at the problem. Today, there are similar questions regarding SOA, because if Web services standards are used, that means a lot of fat, resource-hungry XML messages whizzing around. Mills’ answer is that there’s a glut of underutilized processing capacity out there and a crying need for virtualization to make that iron available for XML.

A lot of software-oriented folks tend to miss out on how much of a role hardware has to play in SOA. We’re talking about architecture here, not software. Hardware, networks, databases, storage — each one comprises a major component of the enterprise architecture. IBM’s talking about monster transaction volumes this week, the sort of thing you’d associate with TPF. So don’t be surprised if you’re in an app dev meeting in the future and you’re sitting next to the corporate mainframe guru and a data architect. Comfortably living within the artificial barriers created within IT shops is probably a luxury you won’t enjoy much longer. Those imaginary cubicle walls are coming down.

James Taylor has been a one-man Impact blogging machine this week over at Smart (enough) Systems. One entry covered a customer panel comprising Michelin, The Hartford, Health Care Services Corporation and the U.N.

Randy [Wallace from Michelin] discussed how far they had come from having a very small percentage of IT spend aligned with key business goals (6%) to one that is much more so (81%). For instance, in the past business units in different regions picked i2 and Manugistics at the same time and both were implemented resulting in separate systems. A stronger governance process and overall architecture are now established, driven by business ambitions and regularly updated. Far fewer and more focused projects as a result. Senior executive user satisfaction has risen steadily.

Here’s where I note Michelin sells tires. We’re not talking about a financial services company that stands to make a killing if it can combine information in new and dynamic ways or some Web business. These folks have a supply chain, logistics and customer care to manage and they’re finding value in SOA. This is why I really start to wonder who isn’t doing this stuff. It’s working in the tire business. The tire business!

Floyd Marinescu has a great summary of IBM’s “Smart SOA” vision up at InfoQ. In it, he lists five SOA best practices that IBM showed off a few times during the event.

  1. Linking business and IT from the beginning. Set the business vision first and see how IT can support it.
  2. Develop an architecture with a vision for the future. Not just one that will satisfy one process or one LOB, but something that can work over time.
  3. Skills and culture, governance.
  4. Scalabilty and process integrity – how do you plan for the spikes?
  5. Maintain end-to-end operational visibility

That’s a solid list. I’ll add one of my own, make the QA folks a central player in all of this. I don’t think I’ve spoken with one person over the past year who claimed to have a working SOA who didn’t tell me that service-oriented QA was essential. You’ve got to know what to test, what architectural principles need to be followed and whether your service can be expected to meet its service-level agreements. From everything I hear, it’s one thing to say that, but no mean feat to do it.

As such, it won’t surprise me overly much if at Impact 2009, IBM is pounding away on the theme of quality SOA.

And speaking of new themes, there was a presentation on “Green SOA” that I admittedly didn’t make, but there is a summary of the presentation up at Greenmonk Associates blog. The nut of the case made by RedMonk‘s James Governor for “Green SOA” is:

My argument at the event is basically that if SOA is a means to better alignment between IT and the business, then we should also drive sustainability into the mix. Componentising services gives you freedom to leave, for example, potentially allowing you to swap a provider out for a greener, or more importantly from a bottom line perspective, more energy efficient service.

Now that is what I call a forward-thinking take on the whole consumer-provider relationship. At the end of the day, that’s what SOA is: an arrangement between producers and consumers. People classically think about it in IT terms. IBM is pitching it in pure business terms, but the model can be extended beyond that. Choice is perhaps the greatest product of a truly decoupled world and, as Governor points out, profit isn’t the only choice on the menu.

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