Manage Your SOA

*Editor’s note: This article was first published in the Fall ebizQ Buyer’s Guide print edition, a supplement to the Business Integration Journal.

One of the primary benefits touted by SOA proponents is the alignment of business with technology. Clearly this should apply equally to the management of SOA deployments as to any other part of the SOA lifecycle and in fact, it can be argued that management is the most important component when it comes to this alignment. Used correctly, SOA management can facilitate the cost effective deployment of new business relationships, the efficient use of existing IT investments and can measure the real value to the organization of SOA itself.

Is SOA management different?

The move to Service Oriented Architecture is the latest step away from the world of isolated applications with limited connectivity. In the SOA world, the enterprise solves new business challenges by combining existing IT assets rather than building afresh: An SOA-based solution consists predominantly of business process definitions which use services already provided by existing applications, and its definition resides outside of any individual application. As a consequence, the number and value of messages flowing between applications increases rapidly as applications and processes must exchange more information and the information exchanged must be richer. Finally, the SOA world is designed to accommodate a much higher level of incremental change reflecting new business requirements.

All of this is quite fundamentally different from the world for which traditional application management or network management platforms are originally designed, and SOA management tools need to reflect this. Obviously, this does not mean that we simply abandon the traditional concerns of network management. Instead, the role of management shifts beyond monitoring of connectivity and associated quality of service as is the case with many network management tools to include the information and business processes built on top of the technology levels of the middleware stack.

While it easy to understand how the SOA world is different to the world of application silos, it should be recognized that the concept of application integration is hardly new as Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) products have been in use since the late 1990s. Therefore aren’t these management challenges already understood and solved? In answering this, it must first be acknowledged that many of the concepts and even software that is being used for SOA management started life within the EAI domain. However, EAI and SOA are fundamentally different in approach and SOA with its focus on architecture, leveraging of modern standards and product independence, more than anything, seems actually to deliver on many of the promises that EAI could not.

Managing what?

As I stated above, SOA causes an increase in certain types of complexity: complex message types and complex process definitions. SOA also brings other types of functionality into the core of the enterprise such as identity management, which in the past was primarily required only at the edges. Clearly, all of this is complexity with a purpose: delivering new business solutions at less cost and less time. However, it is still complexity that carries over to make the task of management more complex.

This implies that the management solution needs to become more sophisticated to handle this new complexity – both in terms of what it includes within its scope and also how it filters the large quantities of information to support correct decisions. All of this must also be carried out within a framework which retains the flexibility required by SOA and hence provide a safe environment within which change can be controlled In the context of this article, I can only touch on some of the attributes– a complete list is the subject of many 20+ page whitepapers:

Registry:As the core artifacts in SOA are of course the service definitions, it is essential that these are published with all the additional descriptions and definitions of modes of use required for successful utilization by consumers.

Identity: In the highly connected SOA world, there are potentially many users – both actual individuals and participating systems, which may from time to time access a service. These users can be from outside the department and even outside the organization. There are dedicated Identity management products for handling the maintenance and distribution of these identities and these must in turn integrate into the SOA management framework.

Life cycle management: In an environment with an expectation of change and the devolution of responsibility to make those changes, life cycle management becomes crucial: How are new services rolled out? How are old services retired? How do you track the consumers of a given version of a given service?

Security: Supporting multiple security models reflecting the differing security needs within a department, across departments and out to suppliers and clients.

Service level agreements: As SOA extends beyond a single organizational unit and beyond a single organization, service level agreements become more important for both the supplier and consumer of the service: How much processing power is being used? How long does my request take to be completed?

Over all of these, there is the opportunity to create metrics and associated techniques for spotting unexpected or worrisome patterns which operators can be alerted to through dashboards or automated detection software. However, technology-driven metrics are of little use beyond fault detection unless they translate into the business domain.

Aligning SOA management with business

I started this article with the statement that SOA promises alignment of technology with business, which is unfortunately a phrase which can easily slip into platitude. In the context of SOA management what does this actually mean?

Most generically of all, it can mean the proving of the investment case for SOA itself: SOA management can play a central role in measuring the actual return after deployment. The key to SOA success is the reduction of each project cost through greater and greater reuse, and SOA management has at least two roles to play here: providing the mechanisms for measuring the degree of reuse and making that reuse easier through effective lifecycle management.

Beyond this, SOA management can address such bread and butter concerns such as server retirement and the resulting savings in everything from software maintenance to electricity usage. An SOA management solution could allow operators to optimize the deployment of processes and services across the available servers and potentially allow old and typically expensive to run servers to be retired without disrupting the enterprise.

And finally SOA can also be used to support key business strategies. For instance, business is in more and more cases adopting service bureau based out-sourcing models: using the scale of a large player to provide a non-core service to many clients at a much reduced cost - think everything from HR to industry specific services such as prime brokerage for hedge funds in finance. The service bureau requires real-time technology integration before it can become operational and in many cases the initial integration cost can overwhelm the business benefit for many potential users of the service. In this instance, SOA management can have two roles:

  • Provide a flexible infrastructure to ease the deployment of a new business relationship which can require everything from new identities, new security models to new business processes.
  • Provide metrics to the business on the execution of the relationship to ensure accurate and timely billing for a usage based pricing models and performance metrics for service level agreements.

So far within this article I have restricted myself to considering how SOA aligns IT with business. However for the maximum benefit, business must also become aligned with the new SOA based IT.

Aligning the business with IT

As the type and value of the information gathered as part of SOA management evolves and moves beyond the purely technical towards the business oriented so must the way this information is communicated within the organization.

This newly available information must be unlocked from the operations room and delivered to the individuals with the business line responsibility to inform better decision-making and in turn drive new requirements back into IT. How this will happen could be the subject of many other articles and will result in added responsibilities and new KPIs for business line managers as well as requiring the effective use of technologies such as RSS to deliver the information effectively to the desktops of the new owners.

About the Author

Financial services expert Ronan Bradley is ebizQ's Community Manager for Banking and Capital Markets.

As Community Manager, Bradley will blog and podcast on the latest news and breakthroughs relevant to the financial services industry. He will also publish press releases, cover briefings, write feature articles and source content from other analysts, industry associations and vendors for publication on ebizQ. Each week, Bradley will compile the most important news and views in an e-mail newsletter for ebizQ's ever-growing financial services community. Bradley has spent over 17 years in the software industry and has held senior management positions in a number of international software vendors with strong emphasis on the financial services sector. As Vice President for Product Management at IONA Technologies, he was responsible for products generating over $100 million of revenue. Bradley also founded PolarLake, which has grown into a leading Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) vendor.

Currently, Bradley is a co-founder and analyst with Lustratus Research, a market analyst and consultancy firm focused on software infrastructure. He is also principal of The IT Perspective, a specialist IT advisory firm working to help clients align their IT and business agendas. As a recognized expert on business integration software and its uses in financial services, Bradley has spoken at many events worldwide and has been quoted in publications such as The Financial Times, Banking Technology, and Computer Business Review. He also lectures at The Dublin Institute of Technology.

More by Ronan Bradley

About Lustratus Research

Delivering independent and unbiased analysis of global software technology trends for senior IT and business unit management, shedding light on the latest developments and best practices and interpreting them into business value and impact. Illuminatus analysts include some of the top thought leaders in market segments such as service-oriented architecture (SOA) and business integration.