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Business Transformation in Action

Joe McKendrick

SOA's Next Step: 'Service Virtualization'

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Let's face it -- in complex environments, SOA may not necessarily simplify things. It may add its own layer of complexity. As Aaron Skonnard explains it in a new post, "there's a common misperception that SOA makes things easier. This is simply not true."

Skonnard says one way to address this complexity is through "service virtualization," an emerging SOA trend that focuses on providing a common infrastructure for building and managing a complex service ecosystem. He observes that Microsoft offers an approach to service virtualization that "is based on a common architecture and a centralized runtime that provides the service plumbing required by all services and their consumers."

Service virtualization "lets developers focus on building new functionality without worrying about how the functionality will be exposed, consumed, and managed over time," Skonnard said. "The runtime provides the core capabilities all services need such as versioning, protocol-mapping, monitoring, routing, and run-time policy enforcement."


Ummm... service virtualization isn't new. It's been a best practice since circa 2001. (See AmberPoint, Actional, SOA Software, etc...)

Anne: Thanks, great point. This is an industry where things seem to cycle round and round through the years and decades, each time getting a new coat of paint. I think Skonnard was focusing on the Microsoft world, which is finally moving en mass into service oriented thinking. Plus, an interesting twist he includes is extending service virtualization to cloud computing.

Thanks for the link, Joe. I agree with Anne that service virtualization is not something new - it's a pattern that underlies most SOA middleware products (ESBs), agents (Actional, AmberPoint,..) and hosting platforms (WCF..).

ESBs place service virtualization "in the middle" - the MSE that Aaron Skonnard describes places it at the endpoint. Endpoint-based virtualization is becoming a new trend. Shielding the service developer from the requirements of the consumer (or the domain) and allowing her to focus on the business logic only - like WCF does it. Also some LOB packaged applications (such as Siebel) start to offer this functionality at the endpoint (with Siebel including Fusion Middleware functionality).

Some virtualization/intermediation requirements, however, map more easily onto a (conceptuall) centralized implementation, rather than onto a set of distributed smart endpoints:
- messaging patterns (pub/sub, reliable, async)
- complex event processing
- message routing (addressing, CBR)
- layered security defense (Anne's pattern - i like it)
- control point for runtime governance (can you really rely on your distributed containers?)


This is not virtualization it is loose coupling and abstraction. We need to stop inventing new words to describe old stuff just to create new sales and hype -- or to describe an ah-ha! moment.

From my perhaps biased perspective, SOA without standards has been around for 40 years in well designed systems. If one was building a system well, one built it in a modular way such that services (or subroutines in the old days) could be called from multiple places where the 'service' was required. What SOA promised IMHO was based on interoperability standards using UDDI, SOAP, WSDL, HTTP and the like to ensure that it was possible to discover services (UDDI), work our what they could do and how to call them (WSDL) and then call them (SOAP, HTTP and TCP/IP). This, to my mind is true abstraction and loose coupling. Unfortunately SOA has been hijacked by those who believe because they produce something that is 'called' no matter how proprietary the access mechanism, it's a service and thus they use a 'Service' Oriented Architecture. At the risk of repeating myself, we have had such SOAs for 40 years or more. The true value from my perspective are the interoperability standards around SOA which I have discussed recently here

In this blog (formerly known as "SOA in Action"), Joe McKendrick examines how BPM and related business and IT approaches can promote business transformation.

Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is an author and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. View more


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