IBM delivers SOA enablers

IBM on Wednesday rolled out a series of software and services intended to help corporate users more efficiently create and deploy SOAs (service-oriented architectures) on their existing infrastructures.

Specifically, the new products and services, the first of what company officials claim will be a "blitz" of SOA-related products over the next several months, are designed to help customers build a collection of business processes. These business processes hinge on reusable and standard interfaces that can integrate applications inside a company as well as externally with customers and suppliers, company officials explained.

"All the services are based around the notion of ensuring that users are fully cognizant of what they are embarking upon with Web services and making sure they get the greatest ROI on those SOAs and Web services they decide to use," said Bob Sutor, Director of Websphere Foundation Software.

Through the use of SOAs, it is IBM's goal to help corporate users break business processes down into building blocks, similar to the software interfaces in a SOA that allow an IT infrastructure to be componentized. These business processes can then be matched with IT processes which allow customers to better adapt to changing business conditions, a company spokesman said.

The first product, called WebSphere Business Integration Server Foundation, lets users build and integrate applications from within SOAs. With native support for the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), the product helps customers create reusable services out of their existing Web services and packaged applications.

"This is built on top of the WebSphere Application Server Enterprise, but it now has BPEL support. The tools (WebSphere Application Developer Integration Edition) have been upgraded as well with the capability to do drag and drop visual construction of workflows and business processes," Sutor said.

The IBM Assessments for Service Oriented Architectures, available through IBM's Global Services (IGS) division, is aimed at corporate users who have begun work on an SOA. The service can serve to help them better assess the functional and technical aspects of such a project.

"When people start using Web services in SOAs, they want an understanding of what their IT infrastructure is ready for. With Assessments for SOAs, they can get a better look at what their IT infrastructure can do, and where and how they should use Web services," Sutor said.

Another service to be offered through IGS, called the Strategy and Planning for Service Oriented Architectures, is designed to help users identify the business and technology capabilities needed to take advantage of service-oriented computing. The service helps define a user's objectives and helps them lay out a service map that identifies SOA business services candidates, an SOA vision, and an SOA reference model architecture.

"If you are planning a longer-term project, you need break it down to a road map so you can match up your existing resources with whatever resources and training you will need as you go through the different stage of implementation," Sutor said.

Two other offerings include the Application Renovation and Integration for Service Oriented Architectures, which helps users determine what the value is in exposing legacy data and linking it with new business processes in the SOA; and Component Business Modeling, which helps users map business processes across industries as well as breaks down an individual business into a series of discrete activities supported by both people and processes.

"What Component Business Modeling does is take a look at your business and understands what you really do and the processes you use. It can make those processes less redundant by getting rid of the overlap among the different pieces and make sure you have consistency across the business," Sutor said.

Some analysts see the announcement as only a necessary, small step toward crystallizing IBM's long-held On Demand vision.

"It is an incremental move forward but it is an important incremental move. It is a step toward their quest of making SOAs a very big piece of their On Demand puzzle," said Sophie Mayo, director of Web services implementation services at IDC.

Mayo added that perhaps the most important part of the announcement is that IBM is using such SOA and Web services products and services to form a much tighter relationship among its WebSphere, Tivoli, DB2, Rational, and Notes software groups.

"Not that they were not working together before, but this (SOA) strategy is bringing a stronger bond among its sister software divisions," Mayo said.

Danske Bank Aktieselskab IT officials said they are using a service-oriented approach to developing and integrating systems that has allowed them to have a company-level business process focus. This has helped them consolidate their operations associated with a number of mergers and acquisitions, for example, by gaining a single view of its customers across its various product lines.

"The challenge of modern IT is its effectiveness. To maximize the business value of the development cycle means carefully choosing which projects to carry through on. Also, it means making sure that the deployed result solves the original business problem. In our experience the best way of achieving this is thinking in a service-oriented manner," said Claus Torp, vice president of architecture and development process at Danske Bank.