SOA Evolution: Top Trends for 2007

While many of these data centers may not perceive they are in the world of SOA, they have more than arrived. These are fully distributed applications that are growing in functionality and sophistication, becoming central to the business and in many cases achieving the rank of "mission-critical."

While many corporate IT groups continue to evaluate SOA at the architecture and standards level, by the end of this year many data centers will have backed into what are effectively SOA deployments through the increasing use of Java and .NET. In an overall trend that continues to gain momentum, application server deployments are moving from the edge of the business to the center of what the data center considers core to their operations.

While many of these data centers may not perceive they are in the world of SOA, they have more than arrived. These are fully distributed applications that are growing in functionality and sophistication, becoming central to the business and in many cases achieving the rank of "mission-critical." While some technologists argue whether these are true SOA deployments, the applications are achieving the goals of integration, reuse, repackaging, or repurposing of business systems more quickly and at lower cost than ever before—the point of SOA in the first place.

We are witnessing a rapid shift in the discussions around SOA and Web-services technology in the data center. Most significant is the view about how broadly Java, .NET, and application server-centric architectures are being deployed. We estimate that over 80 percent of our installed base has adopted solutions based on WebLogic, WebSphere, JBoss, Oracle Application Server, NetWeaver, and/or Tomcat somewhere in the core of their data center, with more deployments to follow. From our discussions with operations managers, applications developers, and IT executives, we see the following trends in and around SOA for 2007 and offer our recommendations for the coming year.

#1: It’s the Application, Not the Technology

For too long, SOA has been about technology instead of the solution. Over the course of 2007, the focus will shift squarely to the application, or more specifically, how you manage, monitor, and enhance the Java and .NET applications that have been built and deployed. Until recently, discussions around SOA were focused on finding your services, choosing infrastructure, conducting a pilot. No more. Deployments of these Web-services-based applications are driving developers to focus on the technology they need to deliver the business solution and driving the data center to look for tools that help directly monitor and manage the SOA applications that are already in production.

If you are looking for the ROI in SOA technology, stop! Refocus on how to make any Web services applications you have become more effective for your business and more manageable in the data center. SOA and Web services technology have, at one level, already proven themselves: solutions based on SOA are growing organically because they get the job done. Whether motivated by the need for a portal, eCommerce site, application integration project, or business intelligence initiatives, Java- and .NET-based implementations have delivered solutions that have survived—and even prospered—in the IT landscape.

Our recommendation: Don’t choose SOA management toolkits or governance solutions as a starting point. Instead, find the exact technology needed by your portal, process integration, or system consolidation project. Keep thinking: "it’s the application." If there are specific business-driven requirements for a process engine, consider an ESB. If the project is for a portal, consider a specific portal technology. Stay focused on the application and measure results based on the impact on the business processes.

#2: It’s Not the Application You Bought, It’s the Application You Assemble

At the heart of this second trend is an increasing awareness of where the value truly lies. The shift is from the enterprise application as the center of the universe toward the composite application at the core of the data center. This view is being reinforced and accelerated by Oracle and SAP as both work to drive their SOA initiatives—Fusion and NetWeaver—into the market. What is considered core in this view is not the packaged application but the custom portions that assemble packaged applications, legacy systems, and custom logic into the composite application.

Viewed another way, customization is moving out of the packaged application, out of the database, and into Java, business process engines, and portal logic, where it can be readily created, managed, made resilient to enterprise application upgrades, and recombined as needed by the business.

Our recommendation: Keep thinking about the application and the business problem it solves. Create the value for the business in your SOA platform and use the business objectives to determine the type of SOA infrastructure you use. By going down this path, you will not be alone as BEA, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP will, over the course of 2007, continue to promote creating value in the composite SOA application.

#3: The Point is Production

Many data centers are waking up to the need for production management of these SOA applications and some of the rather vexing problems in their operation. In 2007, management of SOA will refocus on management of the application. Over the past couple of years, SOA management has come to mean management of SOA infrastructure. While this is important, it doesn’t relate to the more immediate challenge in the data center: production management of the new breed of composite service-oriented applications.

Data centers will bypass SOA management solutions and instead search for solutions that concentrate on the composite application run time. Data centers that have already tried standard monitoring solutions are finding that a console for network, CPU, and memory and database performance tools are not enough. We believe that through by late 2007, the debate will have firmly shifted to seeking solutions that help understand if the applications themselves are functioning properly. The best solutions in this category will offer the foundation for beginning to automate the management of these applications, driven by the detailed view of the application operation that they bring.

Our recommendation: Look for solutions that operate in production to help target the heart of the application rather than the periphery. SOA application problems can be extremely difficult to reproduce in test environments. Tools that simply measure end-user experience or hardware metrics will leave you wanting for detailed diagnostics that can get at the source of a problem.

#4: Think Big

While the SOA technology discussion has been very noisy, SOA itself is enabling a quiet revolution. Some of the larger trends we see being fueled by SOA through 2007:

  • Smaller IT shops will deploy more sophisticated custom business logic at the core of their operations while leveraging more packaged functionality at the periphery.

  • In the largest enterprises, custom back office implementations will continue to be displaced by standardized ERP packages—again, supported by the customization possible in the composite SOA application.

  • Data center SOA solutions will combine with a converging set of traditional IT technologies including ETL (Extract Transform Load) for consolidated operational data, FTP for B2B communications, job scheduling for background process management, and APM (Application Performance Management) to manage the packaged applications components of a SOA composite.

  • Standard packaged applications will become more aggressively targeted for outsourcing via a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. These managed service offerings differ in that the primary use is not through a Web UI, but as part of a composite SOA application.

  • Use of SOA will fuel greater leverage of virtualization as IT works to integrate resource utilization into application operation and holistically manage their hardware capital.

Our recommendation: Be sure to consider all these opportunities for reducing costs while increasing functionality as you move more of your business logic into SOA and Web services. We are seeing innovation and success across the board with this technology and invite you to be a part of these trends in 2007.

About the Author

Rod Butters is senior vice president of marketing at Tidal software; Rod has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, sales, and engineering of enterprise software products. Martin Milani is CTO of SOA products at Tidal Software and is an industry expert on distributed computing.