SOAs forge new links between business and IT, says IBM

Technology has taken the backseat to business as the major benefit and focus of service oriented architectures (SOAs), senior vice president and group executive of IBM's Software Group Steve Mills said at the company's Impact 2008 conference in Las Vegas.

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Technology has taken the backseat to business as the major benefit and focus of service oriented architectures (SOAs), senior vice president and group executive of IBM's Software Group Steve Mills said at the company's Impact 2008 conference in Las Vegas.

"What has powered this idea of SOA is the alignment of business and IT," Mills said in a keynote presentation. "These two are now coming together in a way that we have not seen historically."

"It's a powerful idea. And it's one that is delivering near term return on investment through cost savings and long term return on investment through increased business flexibility."

SOAs have traditionally focused on the re-use of code, allowing services such as a login module or currency conversion module to be designed once and then reused in multiple applications across an enterprise. The architecture lowers development costs but cutting down development time and by increasing the quality of the code that is used within a company.

IBM last September shifted its focus from stressing the technology benefits of SOAs to zooming in on ways that SOAs allowed for increased business agility. At the time, the firm unveiled a set of industry-specific 'key agility indicators' that allow customers to compare their agility with a set of IBM-defined, industry-specific best practices. Further expanding on its push for best practices, the company on Monday published two indicators for financial management and human capital management.

IBM at the tradeshow also unveiled the WebSphere Business Events application, which is based on AptSoft, an application that IBM acquired last January for an undisclosed sum. The application adds the ability to build more complex event chains to IBM's portfolio of event servers and lets business people set up alerts. An insurance provider for instance will now be able to identify when a customer is placing multiple inquiries for price quotes or visiting the website multiple times within a short time, identifying the customer as a hot lead.

The SOA-market is considered a continuation and expansion of the enterprise application integration (EAI) space. IBM's Websphere application server traditionally has been the largest commercial player in that segment. At the Impact 2008 conference, the company cited a new study from Wintergreen Research which pegged IBM's market share in the SOA market at 64 percent, trailed by Oracle/BEA and Tibco at 7 percent each. Wintergreen last year put IBM at 53 percent market share.

The SOA market however is notoriously difficult to chart because it is made up of a slew of products that often have multiple potential applications including as SOAs. Market share data such as Wintergreen's therefore carries little weight, said Charles Brett, a principal analyst with Forrester Research.

The architecture instead uses a set of established technologies such as application servers, event management servers and other middleware applications. The lack of real technology will cause the term to be soon extinct, Brett predicted: "SOA is very much about getting a marketing message across. But it doesn't have a long life," Brett told Webwereld, an IDG affiliate.

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