“It’s just the way IT does business.” Service Oriented Architecture, or simply SOA, has generated marketing buzz for the past few years, and it has gained critical mass in information technology (IT) shops and in software product development plans. Castaldini says the result of SOA work is an efficient and componentized layered approach for use by those who are building software applications.
Joel Spolsky, in a podcast from the popular Stack Overflow series for programmers on the ITConversations Web site (itc.conversationsnetwork.org/series/stackoverflow.html), said that SOA is dead—emphasizing the architecture, “No one is going to re-architect their systems to add this.” But Castaldini counters, emphasizing the “services” part, saying, “This is no ‘rip-and-replace’ architecture, but a ‘leave-and-layer’ approach.” This means that you can write services as objects and layer on top of legacy applications. He believes that IT will be able to get out of maintaining legacy applications and start to innovate. As he puts it, “They can break the ball and chain of support and look for business opportunities in which to contribute. They can start to innovate.”
Neil Peterson, who serves as wireless services and enterprise integration marketing manager at process automation supplier Emerson Process Management (www.emersonprocess.com), in Austin, Texas, says, “SOA can be looked at as a way of migrating IT. You can think of activities that we do as a bus. Services can be things such as data coming from equipment. You can write services on top of the databases on the bus and do actions.”
As often happens with new technologies, some people start hyping them as the “next big thing.” But Peterson says, “Most people do not see it as a ‘silver bullet.’ It is a means to an end—as a way to approach an integration project to enable more productivity in the future. In the IT domain, there are huge silos of applications written by groups that perform with today’s business practices. That’s gone on since the dawn of application programming. With these existing silos, change is difficult if the business process changes. If the fundamental business changes, then you may have to throw everything out and start over. And that’s expensive.”
With SOA, the problem is approached differently. “You can say, ‘In my business, I have services that different departments perform,’ ” says Peterson. “You look at all the services mixed and matched within the silos and figure out how to isolate them and then bring them together differently. With SOA, you can define services, functions and information, then build a federated layer of code. Federated applications marry old to new. Now, I can look at my business processes and developers can figure out how to tie services together to match the business.”
Steve Garbrecht, director of product marketing for automation software provider Wonderware Products (http://global.wonderware.com), Lake Forest, Calif.—part of the new Invensys Operations Management division—looks down the road at a future building on SOA mashing up, or combining with, another technology—Software as a Service (SaaS) or Platform as a Service. These are technologies in which the servers holding data and applications are not local but at various locations reachable through the Web. “In the past, we had independent products in the industrial software space,” says Garbrecht, “but now we are going toward a mix of SOA and platform as a service, mixing the cloud in. Once we start exposing data over the Web as services, we can start exchanging information with logistic and material supply companies, enhancing response to the supplier from orders received from customers.”
Gary Mintchell, firstname.lastname@example.org, is Editor in Chief of Automation World.
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