Service-oriented architecture has come of age, Hewlett-Packard declared this week as it launched a series of new SOA–based software and service products .
"It's time for SOA to come out of the prototype stage and move into the mainstream," said Ann Livermore, executive vice president of HP, in an online presentation which showcased a range of technology mostly acquired with HP's 2006 acquisition of Mercury Interactive.
SOA is still an abstraction to some. It's an architecture to design services based on loosely coupled interactions between different types of software, so that services can be developed in a modular form. Companies can use and reuse different common elements of design for each new service, whether it's for Web commerce, call-centre operation or managing an employee benefits plan.
Analyst Ron Schmelzer said whenever he's confused about what SOA is, he turns the acronym backwards: AOS. "I think it's much more helpful to think of it as architecture oriented towards services," said Schmelzer, a senior analyst at ZapThink.
Schmelzer thinks the HP announcement is the first indication of the strategy HP is developing from its $4.5bn (£2.25bn) acquisition of Mercury, which included a company Mercury acquired called Systinet. Mercury specialized in business optimization software and Systinet in SOA governance and lifecycle management software.
HP listed three steps to implementing SOA:
- Governance: SOA Systinet 2.51 software is a policy management system for services throughout their lifecycle, which can be reused rather than recreated each time a new service is created.
- Quality: HP Change Impact Testing and Business Process Testing software to test proposed new services before they are deployed.
- Management: HP Business Availability Centre software helps monitor and manage a service once it's deployed. HP Services also shares best SOA practices with clients.
Thomson Financial uses HP SOA to provide information to the financial services industry. Some managers initially had trouble embracing the concept, said Vladimir Mitevski, a vice president of product management for Thomson.
"When we went to the senior management and started talking about SOA, I confused these people left and right," Mitevski said.
But because SOA enables one person to deploy a new service instead of 20, and the task can be accomplished in hours instead of weeks, management could see the return on investment, he said.
SOA is also a big opportunity for HP rival IBM, which this week announced the establishment of SOA certification programmes for IT professionals, an online portal of SOA information and IBM's own set of SOA software and services.
IBM has an advantage over HP in SOA, said Schmelzer, because HP doesn't own a middleware software company. That means HP can provide software and consulting to manage an SOA deployment, but they can't actually run an SOA-based service except by partnering with a middleware provider.
But HP sees itself as a management company, not a middleware company, said Anne Thomas Manes, vice president and research director at analysts Burton Group. "They have no intention of becoming a middleware company," she said.
HP partners with middleware vendors. By contrast, IBM tries to bundle its middleware software product tightly with its SOA offerings, contrary to the reality of data centres that have hardware and software from a variety of vendors.