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Faced with increasing demands for agility and integration, many CIOs are now thinking in terms of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), as SOA becomes a key option for an implementation framework. But there is hesitation in the rollout of an idea that some would say is widely accepted and seems sound, even obvious. Will SOA ever really fulfill its promise?

The Benefits of SOA

The need for an integrated information infrastructure to deliver Boundaryless Information Flow™ in the modern enterprise has been recognized for some time. Consensus is now emerging on how to meet it. The answer, according to some industry gurus and analysts, is SOA.

The concept of SOA arose in Web services, which are a way to deliver IT functionality to users within the enterprise, as well as outside it. Loose coupling and discoverability give the robustness and agility that are needed on the World-Wide Web where the services are provided by different organizations, and customer choice forces continual improvement and evolution. These qualities are needed within the enterprise too, as its internal and external boundaries become permeable, and it becomes more dynamic and flexible in order to cope with the pressures of today’s business environment.

The Yankee Group reports that 75% of enterprise buyers plan on investing in SOA technology and staffing within the next year, and Gartner and Forrester make similar predictions. So it does look as though SOA will be a strong contender. What is not clear, though, is exactly how it will be implemented within the enterprise.

SOA and the Enterprise

The Web is a relatively recent phenomenon, freshly-programmed with new code, shining and squeaky-clean. But the IT infrastructure of the typical enterprise is a patchwork of new and old systems, with information silos and legacy applications. These contain most of the business value, which the CIO wants to deliver through the new approach of SOA. The question is, how to do it?

Not a problem, according to SOA product vendors. Buy my messaging middleware or Enterprise Services Bus (ESB) or whathaveyou to turn your information silos into services and plug them in. Buy my registry! I will show you how to make your legacy applications discoverable. Hey presto, you will have integrated access to integrated information.

Unfortunately, there is a catch. This is the primrose path of the proprietary solution. Yes, web services are based on open standards. But the application of those standards to legacy systems can vary, or in some cases not be possible. Enterprise registry products may allow or even require alternatives to the web services standards. And many vendors do not even try to claim that their products are standards-based, let alone demonstrate conformance.


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