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Q&A with Mark Colan Evangelist, SOA and Web Services: IBM Corporation

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Q: How does one get started on building a SOA?

A: The best approach is to start small, focusing on improving on an interaction that is currently inefficient. For example, consider two computer systems which are tied together using a printed report from one which needs to be re-keyed into the other, which takes time, costs money, and leads to errors and data not being optimally up-to-date. A simple SOA project based on Web Services could be designed to directly link the information, sending a SOAP message with updates to the partner system, instead of printing a report. Starting simple allows companies to measure ROI before making a large commitment, and gain experience with small improvements before taking on larger problems.

CIOs should ask vendors about their support for Web Services and SOA as a key consideration in purchasing new software. New application development should be reviewed to consider whether certain application functions are likely to be required for other purposes, and support for Web Service standards could be built in to allow reuse.

Eventually, to accomplish large-scale enterprise transformation, it may make sense to begin such work by establishing an Enterprise Service Bus, which forms the backbone or nervous system of the SOA. Service providers and service requesters can then be incrementally added to the ESBs at a pace that makes sense for the organization. As the SOA for IT grows, the ESB becomes a powerful way of joining applications at the service level, and mediating message traffic for efficiency and reliability.

Q: What new service management is needed to manage a SOA?

A: Business partner integration prior to the use of Web Services has been severely limited by the lack of standards and a loose-coupling strategy. As we begin to use Web Services and SOA for partner integration, we can see that our IT systems, in using functions from our business partners, have become depending on the availability of these functions. We move from managing the availability of our own services internally to the requirement for monitoring and managing availability between organizations, potentially a large number of them. This clearly adds considerable complexity to the management of IT systems, but it also delivers tremendous value, which is why many of our customers want to move in this direction.

Web application systems, such as IBM's Tivoli product line, are evolving to support the Web Services standards. A new standard called "Web Services Distributed Management", or WSDM, is being developed at OASIS, to provide standardized support for management of Web Services, using Web Services to allow management of diverse platforms, to address the requirements for distributed management of large-scale SOA involving independent business entities.

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This article was originally published on August 3, 2004

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