IBM’s Embarks on SOA Blitz

A future of reusable services got a step closer to reality last week when IBM announced its new SOA Business Catalog

There’s a sense, service-enablement is a new spin on a very old idea—that of efficient resource reuse. In the SOA model, the goal is to abstract business processes and to expose them—via well-defined interfaces—as services. Ideally, this will reduce redundancy and help drive standardization. At their most Utopian, SOA advocates envision a future bazaar of canned services, which companies can purchase (or freely use) without developing their own.

It’s an attractive vision, and one that got a step closer to reality last week when IBM Corp. announced its new SOA Business Catalog, an index of canned IT services developed by IBM and IBM business partners. By year’s end, officials say, the new catalog should be home to about 3,000 SOA assets (across at least 15 different industries). SOA assets include process templates, Web services, and miscellaneous tools and adapters. Speaking of the latter, Big Blue last week also touted an SOA-friendly kit to help developers integrate PHP application front-ends with WebSphere.

“IBM's SOA Business Catalog delivers on the promise of reusing IT components,” said Sandy Carter, vice president, WebSphere and SOA, IBM. “The ability to find and obtain detailed information on specific qualified IBM and IBM Business-Partner assets—and reuse those assets—will enable customers to use an SOA to cut costs and increase revenue faster that developing individual IT services.”

Examples of SOA assets include IBM’s Information Framework Process Models (which allow financial services customers to analyze business processes from both technical and business perspectives) and an Insurance Application Architecture (a blueprint to help insurance providers build cross-enterprise architectures for their information systems). IBM says both models also help highlight the attractiveness (and unbeatable value) of the SOA vision: collectively, they represent over 300 person-years of development and incorporate feedback from many prominent insurers.

Additionally, IBM plans to list several vertical-specific modeling projects for its WebSphere Business Modeler in the still-gestating catalog—tools such as modeling constructs, elements, and methods. Another SOA Catalog offering is Big Blue’s WebSphere DataStage TX Industry Pack for HL7, which the company says can help organizations reconcile and integrate health care standard data formats with their existing infrastructures.

Big Blue also touted several tools to make it easier for organizations to service-enable—such as IBM’s QuickStart for WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus, a wizard-like tool that helps SOA adopters design, develop, and deploy a WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus (ESB). Ditto for Big Blue’s Rational Unified Process (RUP) for User Experience Modeling, which provides a set of best practices to simplify the design, development, and testing of new models.

The services are out there, but finding them can be difficult. Big Blue says its SOA Business Catalog can link to the WebSphere Service Registry and Repository (WSRR), which makes it possible for software assets to be cataloged and stored in the repository.

IBM Touts SOA-friendly PHP Integration Kit

Also last week, IBM announced a new PHP integration kit for its WebSphere Application Server (WAS) Community Edition (CE). IBM officials say the new kit—which is available as a free download on its AlphaWorks Web site—will help customers build PHP-based application front-ends using Big Blue’s Apache-based application server, WAS CE.

IBM representatives took pains to spin the PHP kit as an SOA-friendly offering, but the reality, officials acknowledge, is that customers can and will tap the kit in a huge variety of different scenarios.

“What it’ll allow a developer to do is basically build a J2EE application that includes PHP, so that introduces the opportunity to use PHP for what it’s good for, for building Web front ends and simple logic. By making the integration kit available, we’re presenting that as an alternative for people building J2EE applications with WAS CE,” says Paul Buck, director of gluecode development with IBM.

Buck says PHP is an open-source scripting language that’s ideal for building lightweight applications, particularly as front-ends for J2EE app servers. The new kit helps improve the interoperability between the open source PHP runtime and the WAS CE app server: “The PHP run-time that’s generally used is what’s picked up at php.net—it’s all open-source technology, but with the integration into WebSphere, you can actually use WebSphere to serve up the PHP requests, so with the integration kit, as the requests come in to WebSphere, it will know exactly what to do with it and will dispatch it off to the PHP runtime.”

As far as service-enablement is concerned, Buck alludes to skyrocketing PHP usage—some estimates put the number of PHP-enabled Web sites at 20 million—and suggests the technology provides a fast and extensible way to expose data sources. “PHP is really good for Web front-ends. That’s really where it cut its teeth on the Web, with building Web front-ends to access data, to collect data, to present user interfaces to update back end systems.”

It’s likely IBM will provide PHP integration for the pay-for-use version of WebSphere, too, Buck says.

WAS CE is a lightweight J2EE application server that’s based on the Apache Software Foundation’s Geronimo technology. “You can download it, it’s free, [and] the license you get allows you to use it as a commercial application server, but there’s no support. If you want support, then we sell three levels of service agreements,” he notes. “The service agreements are per-server, and for server that’s a system that includes up to four CPUs.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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