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Volume 5, Number 5 -- February 5, 2008

SOA Remains Hard to Define, but Projects on the Rise

Published: February 5, 2008

by Dan Burger

The concept of service oriented architecture (SOA) remains a slippery fish to grasp. For many people, SOA defies an accurate and meaningful description. Some deny that it is anything new. It can be said that it entails new standards-based ways of tying business processes together, another way of saying interoperability, and that is perhaps its most valuable benefit. Not being able to precisely describe it doesn't stand in the way of people claiming to know it when they see it.

Because SOA is thought of so differently depending on the person you ask, the very nature of surveys on this topic tends to lean toward generalities. Last month, AMR Research released a report titled SOA: The State of the Market. Although you might want it to net the SOA fish and bring them into the boat for a closer inspection, what it really does is closer akin to spotting the SOA fish in the sea and then postulating that there are more of them than in the past. It also reports on the size of the SOA fishing fleet--the various product vendors and SOA service providers.

AMR Research analyst Ian Finley, author of this report, says this survey shows a marked increase in the number of people responding to the survey and an increase in the number of SOA projects.

"This is a survey that asks whether a company is doing SOA and, if so, what technologies is the company using. We are letting them define what SOA is and what it is not," he says. "We didn't try to define SOA or restrict participants in this survey to any type of restriction. This is a very slippery question. How do you get a concrete answer about SOA when the definition is so abstract? When we've asked people to define SOA, we find there is no well-defined and consistent definition."

With reference to specific vendors, AMR's report shows Microsoft's .NET, IBM's WebSphere, and BEA Systems' WebLogic as the top products used in current SOA software projects. It also indicates that Oracle and SAP are moving up fast and each is in position to accelerate its SOA activities in 2008. On the consulting side, IBM Global Services has far outdistanced its rivals.

"In general, this market used to be more skewed," Finley says. "There used to be fewer players. Now there are companies in second, third, fourth, and fifth place are closer in percentage than they used to be."

Finley describes this report as based on a "spending survey" that asks participants whether they are actively involved in an SOA project, which vendors they use, and which vendors are they considering to use in the future. The vendor choice question is not designed for an either-or response, and Finley says that in the majority of projects three or four vendors are involved more often than only two or three.

"This is a multiple choice situation," he says. "A lot of people are using .NET in ways that they think are advancing their SOA agenda. But, there are often, within the same company, SOA projects that are requiring the use of multiple tools from other vendors."

According to the report, the vendors most often involved were:

  • Microsoft .NET . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59%
  • IBM WebSphere . . . . . . . . . . . . 44%
  • BEA WebLogic/AquaLogic . . . 35%
  • Oracle Fusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31%
  • SAP NetWeaver . . . . . . . . . . . . 29%
  • HP Systinet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29%
  • Progress Software . . . . . . . . . . . 24%
  • Software AG (WebMethods) . . . 21%
  • TIBCO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19%
  • Cape Clear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17%
  • Amberpoint . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15%

Finley suggests that Microsoft's place at the top of this list indicates that companies are taking on smaller SOA projects within various departments and designed for different functions. He says these projects likely involve smaller "tactical apps" where Microsoft technology is already in place. "People are using SOA to 'wire together' the applications that they have in a Microsoft environment," he says.

"Companies choose several vendors for a couple of reasons. It is a recognition that there are different ways to use SOA," says Finley. "This isn't a new set of applications that is being created in an SOA. The same things that were done five or 10 years ago are now being done with a service orientation instead of a procedural orientation. That means if I want to do application-to-application integration, the sector we used to call EAI, or enterprise application integration, I'm going to do that in an SOA way. Some of these vendors are better suited for EAI SOA. And some are better suited for building Web apps."

It's still too early to deduce a great deal from existing SOA projects, but based on the AMR Research survey, the growth rate is gaining momentum. Admittedly, AMR Research's conclusions in this regard is not exactly indisputable evidence. For one thing, the survey does not determine the level of job responsibility the respondents have within their organizations. This factor could skew results. One example would be when departmental needs are being addressed using a vendor that may not be selected if an enterprise project manager was making the call. What is more clear is that it is likely multiple vendors will continue to be the rule rather than the exception.

"Most companies have people with skills that match their heterogeneous environments," Finley says. "There is little wall-to-wall vendor exclusivity."

At least for the immediate future, the survey backs up Finley's assessment that getting an SOA project underway will take multiple tools from multiple vendors.

In response to the survey question regarding which software vendors would you consider for future involvement in your SOA project, the responses came in as follows:

  • Microsoft .NET . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12%
  • IBM WebSphere . . . . . . . . . . . . 19%
  • BEA WebLogic/AquaLogic . . . 14%
  • Oracle Fusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25%
  • SAP NetWeaver . . . . . . . . . . . . 23%
  • HP Systinet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15%
  • Progress Software . . . . . . . . . . . 14%
  • Software AG (WebMethods) . . . 15%
  • TIBCO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17%
  • Cape Clear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17%
  • Amberpoint . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18%

When information technology terms like SOA become commonplace, eventually people will settle on their own definition and many times that understanding results from pieces gleaned from a variety of sources. The greatest influences come from the vendors. Each will explain a term like SOA in its own corporate tongue. This adds to the overall confusion, but establishes a clear definition in the mind of the customer who is backing it up with a purchase. You could say he is voting for his favorite definition with his wallet. If he's buying NetWeaver, then he's buying the SAP version of what SOA is and isn't.

This goes back to whether everyone who says they are involved in an SOA project is actually doing it or not.

"They understand when they are doing it and when they are not doing it and when they started doing it," says Finley. "Their definition of SOA may not be exactly the same as yours or mine, but they are ultimately spending money with vendors because they perceive that they have the SOA functionality."

By a more strict interpretation of what constitutes an SOA project, it seems more likely that most of these would not make the grade. That's only a hunch, but it's based on whether a project has reached enterprise level goals. There are not many that have, but as mentioned before, it is early in the SOA game.

A better way to describe what exists today would be to call them integration projects--a new application devevelopment project or an implementation project--that uses a service-oriented approach to coding the application. It is as close to traditional development work as it is to SOA. The important thing, as far as being able to get a handle on the current SOA market, is that organizations are deciding to do this in an SOA way and they are choosing consultants based on their SOA capabilities.

The AMR report also provided a ranking of consultants involved with the active SOA projects that were identified in the survey. The list is as follows:

  • IBM Global Services . . . 51%
  • Accenture . . . . . . . . . . . . 33%
  • Capgemini . . . . . . . . . . . . 32%
  • Infosys . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31%
  • Cognizant . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23%
  • BearingPoint . . . . . . . . . . . 23%
  • Satyam . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23%
  • Deloitte . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20%
  • TCS (Tata) . . . . . . . . . . . . 16%
  • HCL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16%
  • Wipro . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9%

IBM Global Services has a huge lead. Much of that can be attributed to Big Blue's powerful marketing voice, which has been touting SOA for close to five years, its many acquisitions in the SOA space, and its substantial efforts in advising customers of the wisdom of building software the SOA way. Of course, it can't be overlooked that every time IBM Software Group makes a WebSphere sale, Global Services is the first to know.

"What you see from this," Finley notes, "is an indication of some consulting groups having their act together better than others. There are some big names that are pretty far down on the list. It looks like only the top four on the list are gaining a great deal of this business." Those top four, Finley says, have made important investments, such as innovation centers for multiple vendors and on-campus facilities at vendor locations where they have access to staff and a demonstrated commitment to training.

Michael Liebow, IBM's vice president of business development for global consulting and SOA, has been tracking SOA projects, skills, and methodology for about five years. From his catbird seat atop the SOA consulting groups, he describes the market as just reaching the early stage of maturing and notes that the rate of adoption often reflects lines of business where there is a pain point that needs to be solved. Although solutions can be described as SOA, most of them don't get into an enterprise-wide implementation of SOA, he says.

To illustrate his point, Liebow says, "You can build Web services using .NET. You can put a gateway on any type of application and connect it with something else. This isn't SOA, because it lacks the architecture. It does add function and business value though."

From the IBM enterprise perspective, much of what is being called SOA falls short of the goal because the goal is long-term not the relief of assorted pain points. "A lot of companies are not doing SOA per se. They are doing precursors to SOA," Liebow says. He calls this phase service oriented integration (SOI) and includes it as one of the early stages of SOA.

The majority of the SOA activity, as defined by Liebow, is "robust and enterprise-level projects" happening on WebSphere. "We counsel CEOs and CIOs on the strategic decisions they are making. This is a platform decision not a product decision and they will have to live with these decisions for decades."


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