Initiative puts an end to 'architecture of extortion'

IT departments see SOA as a way to break down monolithic business applications

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) appears to be all the rage among the information technology network administrators of many large corporations, but how does one begin or get support for such an ambitious initiative?

Vivek Ranadive, the founder, chairman and chief executive at integration specialist Tibco Software, said a compelling reason for adopting SOA was 'to end the architecture for extortion' that had held the heads of companies and their network administrators hostage for more than 20 years.

'The database-oriented architecture in many companies is very rigid; it centralises control and is very expensive to change,' Mr Ranadive said, noting the typically high cost of keeping those software licences and updating them.

He said the situation got worse as companies piled on more business applications, such as enterprise resource planning software, on top that architecture, which meant 'extortion on top of extortion'.

'There is a sea change happening in the industry. Over the next 20 years, data will no longer be controlled in one spot - it will be democratised. Companies will move from a static database-oriented architecture to a dynamic service-oriented architecture,' he said.

'The killer application will come from the companies and their business process ... Differentiation will come from how uniquely companies use their business processes.'

The primary value of SOA as an IT strategy is its design to break down monolithic applications into discrete business services that can be shared and reused across the enterprise using standards that improve their interoperability.

The ability to compose services that can then be invoked as stand alone services is intended to reduce the cost and complexity of integrating incompatible applications, which is typically the case in many large firms absorbing a new business unit, operating in a new market, or implementing new IT systems to comply with regulations, according to Jeff Kristick, director of product marketing for Tibco's business process management solutions unit.

'Tibco customers have found that the true benefits of enterprise-wide SOA can be realised most effectively when deployed as part of an 'independent enterprise service bus,' Mr Kristick said. That independent integration layer helps to mitigate complexity by not exposing business processes to the complexity of running multiple, disparate application platforms.

'Enterprise applications work, but they do not need to be the centre of the universe in a business,' said Ram Menon, senior vice-president for worldwide marketing at Tibco. 'It should be the business process. We provide the tools to manage those business processes and help implement the SOA.'

Research firm Forrester said the business process management software market was growing fast, with worldwide demand anticipated to grow more than 20 per cent annually between last year to 2009, when the market will be worth US$2.7 billion.

Forrester predicted the enterprise service bus approach championed by Tibco would be the most popular way to do SOA-based integration over the next several years.

Mr Kristick said high demand had so far come from the financial services, retail banking and telecoms sectors.

Tibco clients in Asia included China Telecom, Acer, DBS Bank and the Hong Kong Housing Society.

Burton Group research director Anne Thomas Manes said: 'Despite agreement that SOA will enable better flexibility and agility, there's still debate as to what exactly SOA is and how to implement it.'

Meanwhile, database software providers such as Oracle and IBM, and major application suppliers such as SAP, have also embraced the promise of SOA.

Last September, Oracle announced its Fusion Architecture, which incorporates business process management and SOA. IBM said its products - including WebSphere, Rational and Tivoli middleware - were all capable of helping companies achieve the business benefit for SOA.

For companies just starting on the SOA adoption path or in the middle of deploying it themselves, IBM offers a free online assessment so businesses can quickly evaluate their level of SOA exploitation and identify high priority focus areas.

Research firm International Data Corp reported last month that SOA, besides the software, would also cost companies in terms of external services needed to adopt the strategy.

It forecasts worldwide spending on SOA-based external services will reach US$8.6 billion this year, a 138 per cent increase from US$3.6 billion last year. By 2010, global SOA-based services spending will reach US$33.8 billion.

'There is no question that SOA will offer a tremendous opportunity for service vendors in the coming years,' said Marianne Hedin, SOA program manager at IDC.

'Service providers need to gain broader and deeper skills in the area of SOA, and position themselves to be actively involved with clients throughout their long SOA journey, which can take many years.'