The Yankee Group said service-oriented architecture (SOA) is about to become a huge part of the data center.
A new survey from the Boston-based research firm predicts widespread adoption of SOA in 2006, but defining what exactly is being adopted is a problem.
"Define SOA? How long do you want the definition to run?" said Tom Dwyer, a research director at the Yankee Group.
According to Dwyer, defining SOA is hard because there are several components to the strategy, and often people identify pieces of the whole thing accurately, but miss the context of the larger picture.
Charles King, principal analyst with Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Research, agreed that SOA tends to be explained poorly.
"It's one of those subjects that makes sense to people who are technologically literate," King said. "But vendors have a long way to go when it comes to explaining the business value proposition."
What is it?
Somewhere, just under the layer of vendors' marketing messages about "agility" and "interoperability," is the kernel of what SOA actually entails.
SOA is a collection of applications -- abstracted so they appear to be services -- residing on a network. These services communicate among each other in a Web-based language with a common interface. The data from these applications are used and combined across whatever part of the IT infrastructure is SOA enabled.
For example, there might be several applications tied into a company's inventory management system. Instead of running each related application on its own application server, behind the corporate firewall, companies could push the applications out to Web servers and access that data as a service.
The services are "loosely coupled" meaning that even technologically disparate tools can be joined to offer a composite view to an end user. Instructions pass from one party to another with a minimal integration between apps. This is achieved through the use of Extensible Markup Language (XML), a standard language format that describes the type and content of data being transferred.
The protocol to transfer the information is called Simple Object Access Protocol, which allows a program running in one kind of operating system, such as Windows, to communicate with a program in the same or another kind of an operating system, such as Linux, by using HTTP.
So basically, independent pieces of software can talk to one another in a common language over the Web, without affecting each other. By designing business processes around this interoperability, companies move from piecemeal Web services -- running one or two apps on a Web server -- to a strategic SOA.
Who uses it?
According to the Yankee Group, 2006 will be the year of initial SOA project completion on a broad basis.
The research firm broke down the level of acceptance by vertical markets, citing wireless carriers, financial services and government as leaders among verticals in current SOA installments. Over the next year, the Yankee Group said retail shows the fastest adoption rate, followed by manufacturing and wireline telecoms.
According to the survey, the surge of SOA implementation in 2006 reaches saturation in many verticals:
King found it interesting that the Yankee Group's survey focused on vertical market implementation. He said it made sense for the firm to focus on that aspect of adoption.
"Vendors need to choose sweet spots to implement new technologies, and vertical markets are a good place to start," King said. "If you're looking at implementing SOA as a vendor, you're going to take a set of common tools and apply them to a specific vertical. It's the same with grid and virtualization. Auto manufacturing is a good example of an industry with a number of similar applications."
Large enterprises of 5,000 employees or more are ahead on SOA development, but the Yankee Group expects smaller companies to catch up in the next twelve months. By mid-2006, a significant majority of companies of all sizes will have completed at least some SOA projects, according to the report.
Who makes it happen?
In addition to tracking the implementation trends of IT pros, the Yankee Group also addressed which vendors were making the biggest push in the SOA space. According to the IT pros surveyed, IBM ranked at the top of the list for SOA capabilities. Trailing Big Blue in descending order were Sun Microsystems Inc., SAP AG, BEA Systems Inc., Oracle Corp., Cape Clear Software, Systinet Corp., Tibco Software Inc., EDS and Hewlett-Packard Co.
King isn't surprised that IBM took the top spot, and said it has pursued SOA out of necessity.
"IBM has to manage the mainframe, Power chips and Intel. It's got the various Power platforms, AMD-based machines … various operating systems. They've got a stronger motivation to come up with a strategic approach," King said.
What will it do for you?
So what is the benefit to an organization planning to implement SOA?
Dwyer said standardizing systems over the Web lower the cost of IT maintenance and operations.
"SOA lowers the cost of integration and increases communication efficiency between partners," Dwyer said. "The notion is that you expose services that adhere to open standards -- standards that are embraced by the Internet -- you get away from a proprietary approach."
The Yankee Group also said embracing SOA is cheaper than other types of IT overhauls because the technology is based on the Web. That's interesting to a lot of large enterprises, especially the ones involved with numerous partners and acquisitions.
"When you look at the time it takes for a company to digest an acquisition or a merger into the business processes, the cost of integrating the systems between partners is going to go down," Dwyer said.
King said the best way to approach an SOA implementation is to sit down with vendors and consultants to see what is available for your particular environment.
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor