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Thoughts from the Integration Consortium::
Clearing the Fog Over Service-Oriented Architecture: What Comprises an SOA?

online columnist  Integration Consortium     Column published in DMReview.com
May 5, 2005
 
  By Integration Consortium

This month's column was written by Shashank Tanksali, the SOA practice manager at Wipro Technologies.

Ask 10 people in a room what they think a service-oriented architecture (SOA) is and you will in all probability get 10 very different answers. Like many of its technology predecessors, SOA has had more than its fair share of confusion. Many IT managers seem to believe that they understand service-oriented architectures, while others confess to their ignorance of SOA. However, even those IT managers who seem to understand the basics of SOA still have very different opinions of what comprises a service-oriented architecture. The root cause for the confusion seems to revolve around the extremely ambiguous term "service," which has different preconceptions in the minds of IT managers. What comprises a service is not universally agreed upon. There is a school of thought that believes that for an architecture to be considered a service-oriented architecture, all services need to be Web services. While Web services are definitely the predominant enablers for a service-oriented architecture, it is possible to achieve a service-oriented architecture without using Web services.

The question arises as to what can be considered a service and what can be considered an SOA.

A least common denominator definition of a service would be that of a software component which is:

  • Self-describing
  • Self-contained
  • Network accessible
  • Not dependent on the state of other services

At the next higher level, a service-oriented architecture is an architectural approach to building distributed software systems, using services that may internally encapsulate business functionality and allow interaction with other services, thereby, allowing complex business processes to be composed or modified easily, ultimately, resulting in business flexibility.

Yet another reason for the widespread confusion over SOA is the fact that many still believe that SOA is a technological breakthrough, when in fact it is not. In reality, service-oriented architecture has been around for quite some time in different forms. Technologies such as Java RMI, CORBA or even UNIX-based RPC have all been enablers for a service-oriented architecture. However, what makes a service-oriented architecture most compelling in its current form is the widespread industry support for Web services, which form the key enabler for a service-oriented architecture.

Also the fact that SOA became mainstream around the same time that Web services did has contributed to the confusion in no small measure. This has resulted in IT managers sometimes using the terms SOA and Web services interchangeably. In addition to this, there are a dizzying number of Web service specifications, several of which are nowhere near the recommendation phase. This array of standards from various standards bodies such as OASIS, W3C, WS-I etc have left IT managers in a dilemma on which standards to adopt, and many of them have decided to adopt a wait-and-watch attitude to their SOA-based initiatives.

There is also a significant amount of confusion around the use of registries in an SOA. IT managers often tend to misinterpret service registries as repositories. This confusion has been further fuelled by the use of these terms interchangeably by some vendors.

Another reason for the confusion stems from the sales pitches made by vendors to IT managers that seem to suggest that all legacy software needs to be replaced with the vendor's software in order to realize the true benefits of an SOA.

Clearing the Confusion over SOA and Web Services

One of the main challenges in clearing the confusion surrounding Web services and consequently SOA is to correct the uncoordinated standards process among the various standards bodies that is currently running riot in the standardization arena. In addition to this, an independent arbiter who will have the final authority to accept or reject recommendations from product vendors based on technical merits should be appointed.

Apart from this, parallel standardization efforts by different standards bodies should be resolved by establishing a central standards specification repository and approval process.

This will go a long way in expediting the rapid adoption of service-oriented business applications and architectures.

In addition to this, even the acronym SOA has caused a considerable amount of confusion in the industry, leading people to believe that SOA mandates architectural constraints. Proper definition of the term "service" and providing a frame of reference for any SOA-based artifact or discussion will go a long way in resolving this confusion.

While nobody seems to doubt the true capabilities of a service-oriented architecture and the return on investment that it can provide, IT managers are still slow in loosening their purses as far as SOA-based initiatives are concerned primarily due to the confusion around SOA. Convergence of standards from various standards bodies and clearing the confusion around the semantics of the word "service" will go a long way in clearing this confusion and ultimately helping the IT community at large.

Shashank Tanksali is the SOA practice manager at Wipro Technologies (www.wipro.com), a global IT services firm that offers a full portfolio of services across industries, delivering measurable benefits for customers with Six Sigma consistency. You can contact him at shashank.tanksali@wipro.com.

 

...............................................................................

For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Data Integration, Enterprise Achitecture and Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA).

The Integration Consortium is a non-profit, leading industry body responsible for influencing the direction of the integration industry. Its members champion Integration Acumen by establishing standards, guidelines, best practices, research and the articulation of strategic and measurable business benefits. The Integration Consortium's motto is "Forging Integration Value." The mission of the member-driven Integration Consortium is to establish universal seamless integration which engages industry stakeholders from the business and technology community. Among the sectors represented in the Integration Consortium membership are end-user corporations, independent software vendors (ISVs), hardware vendors, system integrators, academic institutions, non-profit institutions and individual members as well as various industry leaders. Information on the Integration Consortium is available at www.integrationconsortium.org or via e-mail at info@integrationconsortium.org.

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