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Big Blue pushes SOA education

According to analyst reports, IBM is leading the vendor charge toward service-oriented architecture. The best way to increase adoption is to increase education, which is something Big Blue is addressing in its user groups.

Boston-based Yankee Group pegged IBM as the leader in service-oriented architecture (SOA) capabilities earlier this year. Because getting IT pros onboard is another issue altogether, IBM is tackling the issue at the user group level.

SOA is an IT strategy that has gained a lot of attention recently. It is a practice that relates business applications to specific business functions (or services) rather than hardware and software entities. The applications are Web based, reside on a network and integrate with each other in a Web-based language with a common interface.

The data from these applications can be used and combined across whatever part of the IT infrastructure is SOA enabled. 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.

Experts cited financial services and government as the vertical markets with the most SOA adoption so far, sectors where IBM's iSeries and zSeries have traditionally had a strong user base.

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Data center education

Yankee Group: SOA everywhere by 2006

According to Nikhil Shah, lead technical architect at Chicago-based financial services consultancy Kanbay, SOA is a good fit for those institutional customers because it can extend the life of zSeries and iSeries applications.

According to Shah, legacy applications are not capable of providing all of the functions end users demand, but at the same time, those users need the underlying transaction system. "When you have a huge installed base in assets with an entire business working on top of that, you don't want to scrap it when new technology comes out," he said.

Taking it to the people

With a strong customer need and a big IBM investment, the best way for Big Blue to get the word out is through its platform user groups. And this year, iSeries group COMMON and mainframe group SHARE both have taken a strong interest in the technology.

COMMON announced earlier this year that it would focus on SOA during its spring conference, March 26-30 in Minneapolis. According to Al Grega, IBM's WebSphere marketing manager for iSeries, that focus will entail 12 specific new sessions around SOA, from basics to business partner tools, to building Web services. Combined with the regular sessions that relate to SOA, there will be 25 sessions and five hands-on labs for the technology.

Sessions include vendor labs, consuming and generating Web services, choreographing business processes with Web services and building SOA using RPG. Highlights will include an SOA case study from Dublin, Ohio-based medical supplier Cardinal Health, an introductory session by Grega to define SOA and a keynote from Robert LeBlanc, general manager for WebSphere.

Grega said it is very easy for an iSeries customer to experiment with SOA. He said WebSphere Development Studio Client has wizards that can expose a standard iSeries 5250 app as a Web service. Also, there is a product preview available for an XML toolkit that allows iSeries customers to experiment with Web services from someone else.

"As you start doing more with Web services, you'll want to manage that environment. But getting started is fairly simple," Grega said.

Big Iron onboard

SOA isn't just for the iSeries, though. Martin Timmerman, vice president of SHARE, said his organization is developing 30 to 50 sessions for its upcoming conference, addressing SOA at various levels from the executive overview on strategy, down to the people who are implementing the technologies.

According to Timmerman, SOA is a big part of the future strategy for large businesses, and the mainframe is an integral component for many of the largest companies.

"Big companies are distributed entities and getting that data across the company is a big driver [to SOA adoption]," Timmerman said. "The mainframe is where the data is. You want to get to that data and expose it across the business and to your outside business partners."

So how long is it taking for mainframe shops to bring in SOA? Timmerman said it's taking a while. He said SHARE tries to provide a lot of user case study sessions at the conference. But when it comes to SOA, most of the information is coming from vendors and consultants, and not a lot from customers yet. But he expects that to change.

Timmerman said the sessions for the spring session have been planned out and the schedule would be released sometime after Thanksgiving.

User groups, vendors and analysts are betting on SOA saturation, but why is it taking off for the iSeries zSeries platforms now?

According to Grega, it's because SOA differs from other emerging technologies in that there is no specific vendor pushing the technology.

"The protocols are all open, no vendor owns the standards. For that reason, analysts are very bullish and all of the major vendors are embracing it," Grega said. "The organizational commitment to SOA is more than we've ever seen from a technology. It's coming from the ground up, from the smallest companies to the largest."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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